By Max Gamarra
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The second night of Major League Table Tennis featured a record-breaking crowd as the players settled in and the quality of play picked up.
“It brings tons of energy,” Chicago Wind coach Eric Owens said of the crowd. “Everybody that’s played the sport their whole life, what we would love is a stadium full of people. In the US, we need to build the sport a little bit but I think it has immense potential. Once people start hearing about it and learning about the sport, I think a lot of people will come and take things to the next level.”
MLTT saw three times the amount of tickets sold for the second day than were sold on the first day. After every great point, game and match, the arena was filled with applause from the energetic crowd.
Fans from all over the world came to see the opening of the league. People flew in from places like Malaysia and Taiwan, specifically to attend the event. One fan, Osvaldo Pelaez, is a student at the University of Central Florida and a member of their table tennis club.
“It’s been great being able to see all these high-level players,” Pelaez said. “I’ve never seen a pro match before because they’re all in Europe and places like that. Seeing a pro match for the first time was crazier than I thought it would be. Meeting famous people like Adam Bobrow and Daniel Gorak was pretty amazing.”
The fans were able to watch the Florida Crocs take on the Carolina Gold Rush, and the Chicago Wind matchup against the Princeton Revolution.
In the first match, the Wind were able to take down the Revolution 14-7 after earning six points from winning the Golden Game. The team match featured thrilling points in both the singles and doubles matches, with one point even drawing a standing ovation from the crowd. Owens, whose team was able to secure its first win of the season, talked after the match about why he became a coach with MLTT in the first place.
“I wanted to get involved because this is something that I wish I had when I was a player,” Owens said. “To be able to kind of come full circle back into the US and table tennis and help them grow the league, I can’t do it as a player now because I’m too old but now I get to do it as a coach”
Not only did the fans get more enthusiastic on the second day, but the teams’ benches began to cheer on their teammates louder as well. A lot of the players in the league are playing on professional table tennis teams for the first time in their careers.
“It’s very nice to feel the team behind you,” Princeton’s Mathieu De Saintilan said. “We fight for each other, so it’s nice. As a team, we’re fighting for every point together.”
A large number of the fans in attendance adopted the Crocs as their team, leading to the crowd doing the chomp in unison after almost every Florida point. The home-court advantage created by the Crocs’ fans helped energize them and drive them to a 13-8 victory over the Gold Rush.
“It gives me a lot of positive energy because I know that if I can win the match, they will be so happy and I will be happy to have made them proud of me and how I play,” Gorak — a Florida resident himself — said after the Crocs’ win. “It’s an exciting moment when you can show the fans the best that you can give.”
Week 1 of the inaugural MLTT season will conclude on Sunday with Florida taking on Chicago and Carolina battling Princeton. First serve is at 1 p.m. EST. Fans who can’t attend can also watch the matches live on the league’s YouTube channel.