Nine Tables, Fast Service, Racket Welcome.
TABLE tennis is an addiction, Saleem Majied confessed one recent Thursday night.
Mr. Majied, 63, who owns his own telecommunications business, said he packed up his 6.5-inch paddle three or four times a week, sometimes five, and journeyed from Crown Heights to Midwood, Brooklyn, to go head-to-head against many of the boroughís top players.
His destination is a nondescript office building on Coney Island Avenue. In the basement, past the parking garage, is the Brooklyn Table Tennis Club, a big room packed with nine tables. There, Mr. Majied joins an eclectic crowd: young and old, Chinese and American, Hasidic and Muslim.
At the popular Thursday and Sunday tournaments, a quiet, collective intensity usually prevails, though the thwock of balls hitting rackets and tables is occasionally punctuated by exclamations and expletives in a variety of languages. Itís very diverse here; we welcome everyone, the clubís founder, Nison Aronov, 46, said. But most hail, as he does, from the former Soviet Union.
Fashionable table tennis lounges like SPiN New York have found a niche in Manhattan in recent years. But Americans still tend to think it is just Ping-Pong, a fun game, said Olga Drabkina, 37, who comes four times a week to train and play. For the players here, though, as in much of the world, table tennis is a serious sport.
And for Mr. Aronov, a Bukharan Jew and native of what is now Tajikistan, the club is more than just a livelihood. If not for table tennis, he said, I would have been a bandit on the street.
After he returned to the table, another Soviet ťmigrť, Dr. Michael Patin, began sponsoring him at tournaments. In 2005, Mr. Aronov reached the United States doubles finals and became the over-40 doubles champion. By that point, Dr. Patin, a successful family practitioner, had also persuaded Mr. Aronov to give up his taxi and open the club, which made its debut in 2003.
Business was so slow initially, Mr. Aronov said, that it was like being in jail, sitting in the windowless room with no customers.
His brother, who had invested in the club, urged him to walk away. But Nison is stubborn, said Dr. Patin, who has been providing financial backing. Mr. Aronov gradually attracted more pupils and coaches, who brought other talented players.
Today, the club has found its footing, and Mr. Aronov offers discounts to those who need help, even dropping the price to zero for some. Michel Levinski, 16, moved with his family to Brooklyn from Israel in October. He was a competitive player there but couldnít afford table time here. So Mr. Aronov not only lets him play free, but also drills Michel without charge, seeing in him a younger version of himself.
If I didnít know him, I would have to drop table tennis, Michel said of his coach. He is my hope.
|The Brooklyn Table Tennis Club may be stuck behind a parking garage in the basement of an office building in Midwood, but it still attracts many of the top players in the borough and even beyond. Here, Ludovic Freithofnig, 13, falls to the ground in reaction to his loss against Daniel Katselnik.|
|The players hail from all over China, Syria, Israel but many are from the former Soviet Union. Whatever their background, they share a strong bond. Table tennis is our religion, Mr. Aronov said.|
|The players praise Mr. Aronov for his ability to pair people, keeping play moving and groupings competitive during the tournaments and playing matchmaker for players during regular business hours too.|
|Adar Alguetti, 12, facing the camera, plays his younger brother Gal, 11, during a menís league tournament. The two brothers, along with Galís twin brother, Sharon, compete in the menís league tournaments and often beat many good players.|
|Phillip Leung, 65, travels from Bensonhurst to Midwood to play in Mr. Aronovís tournaments, held on Thursdays and Sundays.|
|Sharon Alguetti, 11, celebrates a victory during a menís league tournament. He would go on to lose the tournament against his twin brother, Gal.|
|Roman Shteynberg, who helps run the facility, towels himself off after a tough match.|