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Ping-pong diplomacy and a little friendly competition

Enter the Las Vegas Table Tennis Club

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Resident pro David Sakai, 65, returns a ball at the Las Vegas Table Tennis Club, 3060 S. Highland Dr., Thursday, July 19, 2012.

Dave Sakai, the 2012 U.S. Open Table Tennis champ, is playing against Ping-Pong Diplomacy Team alum Errol Resek. Actually, it’s just a friendly rally, but you wouldn’t guess that from the matchup’s Forrest Gumpian intensity. Mid-point, a stray ball from an adjacent table flies into the court. Sakai reaches down, scoops it up and tosses it back … without stopping the point. “You like that?” he asks.

Las Vegas Table Tennis Club

Sakai and Resek’s battle is taking place at the Las Vegas Table Tennis Club, where six tables are currently set up. Each is blue, made by Butterfly and an inch thick. The thickness gives good bounce, and they cost about $1,500 each. The tables are surrounded by two-foot-high mini-barriers, and the barriers are surrounded by blue walls, meant to contrast with the white and yellow balls.

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Table Tennis Center
3060 S. Highland Dr., 360-5888
$8 per hour or $10 per day
lasvegastabletennis.com
Las Vegas’ Meetup.com Ping-Pong
Group meets Thursdays at 6 p.m.

Resek, who ultimately wins the point, has managed the Table Tennis Club for the past three years. He used to work construction, but his firm laid off 60 employees. “The only ones left were the owners,” Resek explains.

So Resek, 70, returned to his original love: ping-pong. In 1971, Resek was a member of the U.S. Diplomacy Team—the “friendship first, competition second” group of American athletes that was allowed in China before anyone else, paving the way for Nixon’s historic visit.

But when I stop by the Center, located just west of the Strip, it’s to play against Sakai. And Sakai, 65, has been playing ping-pong even longer than Resek.

Before the game, Sakai tells me about his previous night at the Palms. “I was playing an exhibition game in the basketball Hardwood Suite. And then I helped run a tournament for all the NBA GMs. And I was back at the Center for more ping-pong this morning.” He calls Las Vegas a “hotbed” for older ping-pong players, which means he can usually find a game at 1 p.m. Plus, “It’s a different game against older players. Younger players have a more powerful ball. More spin. Just last week, I was playing against a younger guy, and before we started the game, he told me, ‘I watched you play on TV, when you were in Seoul. You were so good!’ Then he beat me. All the flattery—he was messing with my mind, man!”

I ask who else plays at the Center. “A lot of poker players come down during the World Series of Poker. And Frank Caliendo used to come down here, too, back when he played the Monte Carlo. He played four days a week, five hours a day.”

Sakai and I play three or four points, and each one ends with me hitting the ball too far, off the table. Sakai gives me a pointer on how to compensate for his topspin: “Close your paddle, like this,” he suggests, and he angles his paddle down.

He serves, I angle my paddle, and the ball connects with his end of the table. “You’re not bad!” he says. I suggest he’s saying that because I’m writing about him. “No,” he insists, “I mean it.” Sounds like he’s picked up some diplomacy pointers from Resek.

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