Serving Up Fun and Competition

| 25 May 2015 | 01:40

Here’s a New York City landlord-tenant relationship we don’t often hear about. The Wang Chen Table Tennis Club has been operating on West 100th Street since 2004, with building owner and pingpong aficionado Jerry Wartski offering Wang a discount on the rent. “Business wouldn’t survive without Jerry,” Wang said.

Wang came to the United States from Beijing in 2000, and began coaching Wartski two years later. Wang said that Wartski, now in his 80s, generously sponsors table tennis players, herself included, when she trained for — and made — the 2008 US Olympic team.

Wang began playing table tennis at 7 years old and became junior national singles champion by age 14. After just missing representing China in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, she moved to the United States. She’s been living on the Upper West Side since 2001.

After becoming a citizen in 2006, Wang began two years of extensive training, with financial and personal support from Wartski. At the advanced age (for competitive table tennis) of 34, she qualified for the 2008 Games — held in her hometown of Beijing.

“Of course, that was most special representing the U.S. in my old hometown in front of so many friends and family,” she said.

Wang became the first U.S. table tennis player to reach the quarter-finals, and, with that, retired from competitive table tennis. “I wanted a family and the preparation is so very hard,” she said. “I didn’t want to play competitively if my level dropped.”

She now has a 4-year-old son, Ryan.

On a recent Saturday morning, the sport’s unmistakable clicks, pops and squeaks are audible as soon as you walk in to the club, which is between Broadway and West End Avenue.

The club features regulars of all ages. Players that Saturday morning included pairs of fathers and sons, and Wanying Lu, 25 and her boyfriend, Chang Peng. Chang, celebrating his 26th birthday, has been taking lessons for a few months and considers Wang’s vast international experience a huge advantage. Wanying, with shirt drenched in perspiration, said she has “improved a lot these few months.”

“If I get a big enough apartment, I’d love to get a table for my living room,” she said.

Steve Magid, 65, ventured over from the Upper East Side. He, too, was soaked in sweat after his weekly lesson. Magid has been playing for 18 years and calls table tennis a “cross between chess and race car driving.”

He’s “still getting better,” he said.

The small waiting area features a changing closet, small couch and pictures of Wang with Olympic teammates Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among photos with Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. A signed paddle hangs on a wall. “Wang, thanks for kicking my ..., John McEnroe,” it reads.

There are three tables on the main floor, four in the basement. The club has experienced great growth the few past years, attributable in part to the club’s lowering the monthly membership rate from $75 to $20. People can also play for an hourly rate of $8 or day rate of $15.

Wang said one of her main goals is to “raise the level of interest in the junior level.”

She does so with after school programs, weeklong camp sessions and all-day sessions during the summer. Wang offers free table time to any of the children in her son’s pre-K class.

“Some of the kids, ages 3 and 4, come and hit, and Ryan plays a little bit, too,” she said.

George Paltakis, 43, often treks up and across town from his post at the United Nations on 42nd Street for after-work Monday evening lessons with Wang before heading home to Brooklyn Heights.

“I was invited to play a few months ago and it awakened all these memories from when I was young,” he said. “She’s the best there is, and when you find the best, you stick with it.”

Mark Engelmann, 60, “wandered by” the club about a year ago and now takes lessons up to twice a week. He thinks he’s getting “semi-good,” which means he’s getting a workout.

Wang notes that for seniors, table tennis is a great for “hand-eye coordination, the brain,” but that they don’t “have to move as much” as, for instance, they might playing tennis or other sports. But, she added, it’s a sport for people of all ages.

“It’s just such a fun game and you can make many new friends. You’ll never be lonely here,” she said. “It’s like a family.”