JOOLA Teams Tournament Experience by Tahl Leibovitz

I was so delayed on time; had just finished gluing up a Joola Nature Blade with Rhyzm P on both sides of the racket. It was 10:30AM on a Thursday morning. My team mate Anthony Valario was waiting outside my house. Anthony is an uber driver during the day and he plays table tennis at night. To say that Anthony is obsessed with table tennis would be an understatement. I first met Anthony in 2001 where we played a team match with USA against Dominican Republic. Anthony says I beat him, but I don’t remember the match. I sort of now, vaguely remember meeting him. Today we have some good matches battling one another. Anthony has become a great friend.

I packed light this time. Brought 5 bags. One bag of socks, one bag of gluing equipment with a scale, one suitcase of clothes, one backpack and bag of physical therapy equipment. Paul David was sitting in the front seat. Pretty much the same as when we drove together last year. I have a bit of trouble in the backseat because when you sit, its good to have your knees below your hips. If the seat is slanted, then your knees go above your hips and that puts a lot of pain on the low back. But I figured I would try and tough it out. Its only about a 5-6-hour car ride. Not too bad.

Anthony drives a Toyota Camry. When I looked at the speedometer it read 195,437 miles. That is a lot of miles for a car. But Anthony assured us it would make the trip because the car is only 3 years old. About 4 miles in I couldn’t take sitting in the back. I asked Anthony if he could pull over at the next rest stop, so I could trade seats with Paul David. Anthony pulled over on the side of the highway into a field of grass. Paul and I traded seats.

I have had some serious table tennis battles with Paul. Paul was previously a 2500 level player; which from watching him move around the court today and pick up balls seems like 1000 years ago. Paul and Anthony as well as our team mate Juan who was another Dominican player arranged a sponsor for our team. It was an event company called “The Untouchables.” Juan and Anthony go way back. They grew up as kids playing table tennis together in the Dominican Republic. Juan stopped playing in his early teens and Anthony went on to play professionally. They now live a few blocks from each other in Corona Queens not to far from where Ernest Ebuen lives, who was a 5-time Philippine National Champion. All of them live about 15 minutes driving from my house.

We were leaving from Queens NY and took the Verrazano Bridge. It took us about two hours to get into New Jersey. Overall the trip went OK. For some reason Anthony enjoys listening to Christmas music which I have to say is not really my favorite kind of music to listen to. Especially since my wife plays it pretty much every moment throughout the holiday season. But it could be a good way to prepare mentally for matches. Or it may not be.

The first time I arrived at the Joola Team Tournament in Washington DC a few years ago I thought it would be like the Baltimore Team Tournament which I didn’t think was all that great. But after leaving that tournament, I felt it was the best USA competition in the entire country without question. The venue was outstanding, location was great, hotel was excellent. They even had water coolers at the tournament. I was very impressed. All my table tennis friends agreed it was a great tournament. When I arrived for the 2018 Joola Team Tournament it was a good feeling to be part of something so professionally run and thought out. That tournament had really come a long way.

My roommate is Jerry Vasquez. I met Jerry when I was first starting out in table tennis. The year was 1989. I was a member of the South Queens Boys Club Table Tennis Team and Jerry was a member of the 10th Street Boys Club in Manhattan. Jerry was the one who sent me the Joola Rhyzm P rubber and nature blade. Jerry is one of those few players who has tried out probably every equipment combination known to table tennis. A few months ago, I was looking for new equipment. Jerry kept telling me to try Joola.  He said I should try the Rhyzer 48 rubber. I wanted to try the Rhyzm P instead. So that’s what I used this tournament.

I was in such bad shape physically for this tournament. I had trained a lot of table tennis but did not go to physical therapy for at least two months and I was working quite a bit as well. I was predicting I would have a tough tournament. The rubber Jerry gave me was about 1 year old and not in the best condition.  I had to glue it 3 times because it was sitting in Jerry’s car for a few months. Jerry said that Aruna is using the Rhyzm P and even though he recommended the Rhyzer 48, the Rhyzm P could be good for my game. Although I wasn’t feeling the best physically, I was in practice and feeling the ball well.

Jerry was playing with a butterfly ZLC Timo Boll racket and some Tenergy special pro rubbers he had gotten from a world class player. Jerry said this combination had worked well for him at in Las Vegas because of the high altitude but he was having trouble with it in this condition because it’s a big hall and it just wasn’t playing as well.

Jerry had a bunch of different racket combinations that we were going to try out. We finally got a table and were about to warm up. But then Jerry had a swig of his Starbucks coffee and said it wasn’t made correctly. Jerry had worked in Starbucks for quite a few years in Manhattan NY and was very particular about how his coffee was made.  He was also particular about how his food is prepared. I actually spoke with him today a couple of hours ago and he was saying something about having the ability to control his dreams. I pointed out to Jerry that his statements may not be reality based, and this is something I have some experience in because of the work I do. He did ask me if I know what “yoga dreaming” is, which I do not know what that is. Eventually we were able to agree that maybe Jerry could control his dreams somewhat, but he had zero control over his actual life. I was thinking if he could reverse it, he may do better. Or worse.

We walked back to Starbucks. Jerry explained how he had to have a specific number of sugar pumps in his coffee and furthermore the coffee beans they were using some how were not up to standard. Jerry is certainly someone who is an interesting thinker and can have a conversation in just about any topic. I always thought philosophy would be a good major for him. He is very intelligent. Furthermore; I do actually listen to Jerry, especially in manners of coffee. At one-point Jerry was stationed to work at Starbucks in downtown Manhattan. I never asked him what he was doing when the twin towers were attacked but if I can recall correctly, he stepped out of Starbucks and a black cloud was moving towards him. I would be hoping at this point Jerry was able to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Jerry said that he was with one of his employees who again, if can remember correctly was someone that I had dinner with in Richmond Hill, Queens and she got offended because I refused to eat Jamaican Chicken with a fork. It sort of went downhill from there. Jerry had been trying to set me up on a date with this girl for a long time and it didn’t go that well. Jerry tells a different story about how I was the worst person to be on a date with and his friend never looked at him the same again and some other things that may not be printable. Anyway, Jerry was standing with this girl and she didn’t know what was going on. Jerry pulled her up a block and away from the smoke. No one could see anything and there was smoke everywhere. I will have to ask Jerry what happened next, when I see Jerry at the US Open. I know he told me, but I might have tuned him out for some reason. I was probably sleeping.

Now I remember, they were walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or one of those bridges and many people thought the bridge might be attacked. Of course, a very difficult situation for everyone and I am not sure how I got into the topic of 9/11, but I will say that either Jerry is an expert at making coffee or he knows nothing about coffee. Either way I am hoping he knows a lot more about table tennis; which I think he does.

So, we went to change coffee and by the way this happened multiple times. Later that night Jerry had ordered ice cream to go from the sports bar and returned the ice cream 40 minutes later being dissatisfied with his order. He wanted vanilla and I think they gave him vanilla bean. I have no idea what the difference is. I won’t even try to get into that.

We tired out a bunch of different rackets, Jerry decided to use the Timo Boll ZLC because he felt the conditions were too fast and he wanted a slower racket. I decided to use the Joola Rhyzm P and the Nature blade. Many world class players were using the nature blade. It’s a great blade for blocking and controlling the ball, it also produces very good topspin.

I was seated as an “A” team and Jerry was seated as a “E” team. Jerry is rated 2221 for the tournament and I was rated 2504. But Jerry played with some lower rated players than him who are up and coming and good friends of ours. Jerry played well against all the sponge players but had trouble against anyone who was using short or long pips.

I played OK, I beat one person who Paul David said I had previously lost to in the nationals. The nature blade had outstanding control. I played against one player from the Joola team who is rated 2750 and I was up 2 games to 1.  His backhand was amazing. I noticed he was using Rhyzer 48 on his backhand. I also played Gao Yan Jun this tournament. A player who I have had many battles in the past and even teamed up once for doubles at the Collegiate National Championships. I won the first game easy and had some chances in the second game but played poorly. Gao was getting an amazing amount of topspin with his backhand. I looked at his rubber and he was using Rhyzer 48. The same rubber that all the Alguetti Brothers were using on both forehand and backhand. Gao was using the Joola Zelebro PBO Blade.

Gao told me after the match I should change to the Rhyzer 48. I ended up trying Steven Chan’s racket which had Rhyzer 48 and it was the Zelebro PBO blade. Jerry tried the combination also. I have to say, that I am very particular with equipment. Especially since I experience a lot of pain in my playing arm; both wrist and elbow. I can’t ever remember a blade that had such good power and good control. I was able to attack strong and still had an extreme high level of control. I ordered the blade immediately and I ordered 4 sheets of Rhyzer 48 rubber.

I now have the blade in flare but also ordered the straight handle. I am going to try and use straight handle. The nature blade I was using is straight handle. That blade is very good. Jerry decided on the nature blade after using it with the Rhyzer 48, but he still wants to try the Zelebro blade and he ordered one of those blades also. Jerry told me this week that he will use the Rhyzer 48 rubber because he can make good spin and also control his opponents’ power. With the new ball we need to use a slightly harder rubber.

This Rhyzer 48 has a thinner top sheet with a hard sponge. It plays like a hard rubber but feels different. It’s unique. I want to say it feels like a medium soft rubber but it’s a hard rubber at the same time. Very good with the ABS ball because the ball does not go to the net like other rubbers I have used.

I rarely promote table tennis rubber, but this rubber is better than tenergy. I was very surprised.  I am sponsored by Joola, but they can cancel the sponsorship. I will continue to use this rubber. As crazy as that sounds. This rubber is excellent. I have tried many different rubbers before signing with Joola. I finally found something good to use and prepare for the 2020 Paralympics. I used to use Joola in the 1990’s. For the new ABS ball this rubber is even better. Joola definitely stepped up the level.

Next week Jerry with make the decision between the nature blade and the Zelebro blade. It’s a tough choice. The nature blade has amazing control but so does the Zelebro blade. When I spoke with Jerry today, we talked about possibly doing a few videos to review some table tennis equipment. I am not someone that changes equipment much. Once I find something good, I stay with it. Maybe I will review the Rhyzer rubber and some joola blades on video, but I won’t change this rubber. It’s just too good.

In conclusion, my entire team had a great time at the tournament. I ended up driving back home to NY with Jerry’s team mates one of whom was doing 90 miles an hour the entire time. Jerry ended up taking a flight to New Hampshire where he lives. Jerry will be moving to New York within the next 6 months. We are preparing for the 2019 Para Pan Am Games. I am a class 9 and Jerry is a class 10 player. Be well, train hard and if some how you got this far; go to Amazon and pick up Ping Pong for Fighters Gold Medal Edition. Good gift for the holidays!!!

Tahl Leibovitz
Paralympic Gold Medalist


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