Player Profile – Anthony Lewis
Anthony Lewis is our current rising star of table tennis in the Pittsburgh region. A native of Butler, PA, the 23-year old Anthony has quickly evolved into perhaps the most dynamic offensive player in the western part of our state. He competes in both the South Park and POTTC clubs, and was honored as Player of the Year in the POTTC club during the 2013-2014 season. Anthony uses his great quickness, reach, and two-wing loop attack to great advantage, allowing him to compete at the highest levels of our state.
When did you start playing, and where?
I have been playing ‘ping pong’ in my basement since I was very young with my dad, but I have only been serious about the sport for about 5 years. I started playing the sport of table tennis about halfway through my freshman year at University. I recall going to a small tournament hosted in the recreational lounge at Duquesne called The Nitespot. I was a good basement player so I was confident I would win. I got there and saw Michael Marks, Nick Fejka and three other guys named Stan, Mike and Stefan playing. They were playing table tennis when I wanted to play ping pong. Needless to say, I was beaten easily. The effect watching them play had on me was huge. I was a little shy at first so I waited until I saw Mike Marks again to ask for his phone number to get together with him and start learning. He showed me basics of the sport, ideas like third ball attack, importance of service, and generally helped to instill in me the topspin mentality. He showed me the world of table tennis. I began watching videos of Timo Boll and Ma Lin, who were my original two favorite players, and I tried to emulate their playing. Timo’s strokes and rallying abilities, and Ma Lin’s service and third ball attack game. Mike helped me select a good racket and for several months, we would play every day, sometimes up to 4 hours or more. I was lucky to have met him at the time and I am also grateful that he was patient enough to start with a beginner and work with me. I recall us trying to countertop a lot, because it was fun. Going from a basement player to trying to countertop in a few months was not very easy, but we became fairly good at it. Lots of looks from students passing by. That was a very formative time.
Through Mike and Nick Fejka, I was introduced to South Park TTC and I spent a lot of time growing there. I recall the years of absolute frustration when I could not get past table 5. Here I was, trying to ‘do it right,’ emulating top players, trying to play a topspin game and continually losing to players who were not on the same path I was. It was at this time that the sport just made me angry, and I’m sure many players remember my temper…Eventually, with continued dedication, things started to click. At one point I was unable to get a ride to SP, so I would take a bus downtown, transfer to a different bus that would take me about 45min to get out to SP and drop me off a little over a mile away from the club, and I would walk the rest of the way to get to the club, and I would be there about 40 minutes before everyone else, or right around the time that Dave Markiewicz was there. Narendra Limaye pointed out to me that he could have given me a ride there…so my struggle was less about dedication really and more about a lack of resourcefulness at the time…I would also like to recall talking with Randy Seemiller at one point before I was consistently on the higher tables when he said, “sometimes you have to push the ball” to which I responded, “but I want to be able to topspin everything, someday I’d like to be able to topspin even serves.” And no hate on Randy here, or the Seemiller style in general. If they did not exist, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be the great table tennis scene it is today. Additionally, I have learned the importance of a quality push from Randy, Chip and Mike. I have grown to have a lot of respect for the style. In some ways, what I said was a bit of a premonition, now I have developed the technical ability and skill necessary to be able to topspin serves, even serves that will double bounce on the table, with the backhand flip.
I started working with Mark Krotec who was influential in teaching me the importance of playing a physical game, and also teaching me a thing or two about the elegance of the ‘off the bounce block,’ which I have incorporated well into my backhand. Soon after I began working with Akbar Ormes after he and Matt Sakaduski sort of disappeared from the table tennis scene to learn “The Chinese Forehand” (Haha) I recall being highly skeptical about it, like many others. Eventually, through some discussion with Akbar and Matt, I jumped on board. Working with them, and a lot of trial and error, we were able to effectively train high level technical skills with no direct access to anyone with that kind of understanding of the sport. I was very lucky in that I was not the guinea pig, but instead got the more finished product understanding of skills because Akbar and Matt had already worked out some of the major kinks in their understanding of technical developments. Working so closely with Akbar and seeing the results I have had against players who regularly train with 2300+ players on a daily basis who play games similar to my own, I have come to the belief that technical skills are among the top things needed to be successful in table tennis. Granted, there are many, many great and even world class players who do have some technical faults but still compete at that level, it is still very important to be able to execute certain shots to be successful in modern table tennis.
Did Duquesne offer any advantages for your pong evolution?
Most definitely. Without Mike Marks, Nick Fejka and the other guys at the Duquesne TTC, I may have never even been introduced to the sport.
You were the lone representative in last year’s NCAA tourney, held in the Monroeville Racket Club. How was that experience, and did that change your perception of our sport?
It was an amazing experience. What was so great about it was seeing so many young people like myself so interested and dedicated to the sport. As is well known, and again no hate on anyone, but Pittsburgh is not (yet) known for its young players, so getting to see so many young people play and play at such a high level was thrilling. Honestly I got to feel like a pro. My favorite part of the whole tournament were the towel holders at the sides of the courts.
Who were some of your greatest influences as you progressed?
Initially Mike Marks, I remember watching him hit loops against block and I was like…I want to do that haha. Akbar Ormes of course. As for pros, Timo Boll for his rallying and close to the table play, Ma Lin for service and third ball, Vladimir Samsonov for his consistent defense and fishing ability, Werner Schlager for his tenacity and spirit, Ma Long for his insane forehand, Wang Liqin for his even more insane forehand, Zhang Jike for his backhand flip over the table and Ryu Seung Min for his unbelievable footwork…I have tried to take all the best qualities I see in top players and incorporate them into my game.
How would you describe your playing style?
Attack first, attack often and attack hard.
What players or styles give you the most trouble?
Long Pips push blockers and close to the table OX players. -shudder-
What have been your best or favorite matches?
Actually a recent one against Don Hamilton was killer. It went for about 40 minutes and was grueling. I lost in the 5th but man…that is what a physical game is like. I also love playing 2300+ players. I find they just out of my reach and I am always smiling when I play them because I have so much fun. Actually, I remember saying someday I wanted to be good enough to play topspin to topspin rallies and that is when I will have fun, and I’m just about there, and I have so much fun playing table tennis because of it.
Many pongers have spoken quite favorably about your potential, many saying that a 2300+ rating is quite reasonable for your future. What are your goals, and where do you view your ceiling?
Well, realistically I probably will not get to 2400. I realize it is a high goal, but I if I can break 2350, I will be happy. If I train in Japan like I want, I think I can get there. Someday, I would like to have a PA state title under my belt.
Rumor has it that you are about to embark on an interesting adventure, working in Japan for a year. Do you plan on any serious pong training while you are there?
Rumor is correct. I plan to play at least 3x a week, preferably 5x a week including training and playing. I was offered two dates to be in Japan by: May 5 and May 25. I’ve decided to stay for a little longer.
Last, tell us a little more about yourself. Occupation? Hobbies? What else occupies your time and interest?
Currently I’m working at a Chinese restaurant in the South Side, Lin’s Asian Fusion, until I leave for Japan. I enjoy reading, the most recent book I have read was “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I am currently reading Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I guess I’m on a South American kick. I love Golf and Volleyball as well. I also like to read about global issues. I try to be as open and globally minded as possible, and the internet is a beautiful resource for that kind of thing. And before you say anything, no, I don’t believe everything I read on the internet!
To any young players or players wanting to get better, understand that you will get worse before you get better. If you are serious about getting good, expect to change things and get uncomfortable and lose to people you normally have no problem with. BUT. Do not get discouraged! The results will come. Have faith in what you are learning, one day you will go to loop a ball and the ball with fly from your racket, hit your opponent’s side and jump forward with the spin and you hit that! There really is nothing more satisfying than that.
I want to thank Mike Marks and Nick Fejka for getting me started and driving me around, Mark Krotec for his dedication to the POTTC and for his youth programs-that is how our sport will continue in Pittsburgh after we have all gone, Akbar Ormes for his Technique Junkie mindset and ‘paradigm shifts,’ Chip Coulter, Randy Seemiller and Mike Walk for showing me the ropes on table one at SP and all the pong club members. Oh, and do not fear the switch to plastic!