By Max Gamarra
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Romain Lorentz of the Carolina Gold Rush concluded the first official game of Major League Table Tennis with an emphatic fist pump, marking the start of a new chapter for the sport.
“I am of course really proud and really happy, most importantly for the team,” Lorentz said. “My name will always be in the history book so it’s a very good feeling and a very good start for the team.”
Major League Table Tennis (MLTT) held its opening night at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., officially becoming the first and only active professional table tennis league in the United States. With the creation of the league came a new and unique format to the sport of table tennis, intended to revolutionize the sport and excite its fans.
The inaugural night of MLTT featured two matchups between the four teams in the East Division: Carolina faced off against the Chicago Wind and the Florida Crocs played the Princeton Revolution.
The Gold Rush opened up the season with a 16-5 win over Chicago, led by the No. 1 overall pick in the inaugural draft, Enzo Angles. Angles is a left-handed French player and was widely considered to be one of the best players in the league coming into the season. That label comes with high expectations.
“The expectations around, even if it’s not really expectations for results, it’s also an expectation about show because my game has a lot of beautiful points,” Angles said.
After the league was launched on March 29, he was one of the first three players to commit to the league in addition to the Wind’s Damien Provost and the Crocs’ Daniel Gonzalez. The three of them joined the league just a month after its creation, buying in to what the founder and commissioner Flint Lane was building.
“It’s a new project and it’s very exciting so then I’m like ‘Why not?’” Angles said. “I was very very happy about it and when I heard about it I said ‘Come on I need to try to do this.’”
The second and final team match of the night finished with Florida defeating Princeton by a score of 14-7. Matilda Ekholm, a Swedish player for the Crocs, said that the season-opening win is just the start for her team.
“I want to win,” Ekholm said. “We have a very strong team and today we were not playing our best. If we level up a little bit more then we’re up there in the top.”
The Revolution gave Florida everything they had, with the game coming down to the very end. Princeton’s team is coached by Mathias Habesohn, who has mentored players at the highest level of the sport including the Olympic Games and the World Cup.
“It’s amazing, it’s really awesome,” Habesohn said. “I’m a person who lives table tennis, almost thirty years already. My whole family is totally into table tennis. When a new thing like this pops up in the world, a guy like me just wants to join and wants to be a part of it.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to me, it’s a really really great day for me even if we lost the first match. It’s a great feeling as a table tennis enthusiast.”
The league features players from all over the world, including in the West Division which will begin play on Sept. 22 in Santa Cruz, Calif. The West is made up of the Portland Paddlers, Bay Area Blasters, Texas Smash and Seattle Spinners. Many of the players are here in the United States, taking advantage of a new opportunity to showcase their skills with a paddle.
“I feel so excited to be a part of it because this is the first time that the US has a professional league here,” Chicago Wind’s Dan Liu said. “I’ve been in the USA for 12 years and this is the first time, I’ve waited for a long time and finally I’m here.”
The second day of Week 1 will see the matchups flipped, with the Crocs taking on the Gold Rush and the Revolution facing the Wind. After each day of competition and experience gained, the league has aims to soar higher and higher from this launching point.