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Albany’s Ko wins national table tennis tournament

Albany's Carlos Ko, seen here playing at the U.S. Nationals, won the 2300 Men's Singles title.

Albany's Carlos Ko, seen here playing at the U.S. Nationals, won the 2300 Men's Singles title.

ALBANY — Carlos Ko is back in Albany, back from Virginia Beach and the U.S. National table tennis tournament.

And back in the conversation.

“I surprised a lot of people. People were amazed,’’ said Ko, who made it the quarterfinals in two events and won the 2300 Men’s Singles championship.

The 2300 rating is based on where players are ranked, and Ko, who is ranked No. 100 in the nation, entered the 2300 competition as the 13th seed in the 145-man field. He shocked many of the competitors.

Ko, 40, who was born in South Korea and now makes his home in Albany, was out to prove a point in the U.S. Nationals, and he did, playing at a high level in the regular table tennis competition.

Ko is one of the top hardbat table tennis competitors in the nation. He won the U.S. Open hardbat title in 2010, and would have been one of the favorites to win the U.S. Nationals hardbat title, but Ko is concentrating on establishing himself as one of the top table tennis players in the country.

“It’s just too difficult to try to do both,’’ said Ko of the two formats. Ko has mastered hardbat, which uses a non-sponged racquet. Actor Adoni Maropis, who had a role on the television series “24,’’ won the U.S, Nationals Hardbat championship at Virginia Beach. Ko beat Maropis when they last met in the semifinals of the U.S. Open championships.

Ko plans on competing in the 2012 U.S. Open hardbat tournament in July. He is considering competing in table tennis during the Olympic trials in February.

That’s how much confidence he gained in Virginia Beach.

“Right before the tournament I felt better than any time before,’’ Ko said. “I was in a zone. But it’s really hard to play hardbat and sponge table tennis at the same time. Nobody expected me to play that well in the sponge event. I proved myself.

“There (was a large crowd) watching the finals, and they didn’t know who I was. Everyone was kind of amazed that a 40-year-old man could beat those guys. Once you turn 30 or so you’re a family man and you don’t have time to travel and be competitive in table tennis.’’

Ko said the longer he played, the better he played. He made it to the quarterfinals in the Open Singles Over-30 competition, where he lost in five sets to De Tran, a former member of the U.S. National team.

And he made it to the quarterfinals of the Under 2400 Men’s Singles, where he lost in five sets to Igor Shulkin, a Russian who is a former member of the Belarus National team. The U.S. National table tennis competition is open to international players.

After those back-to-back finishes, Ko picked his game up and won at the 2300 event.

“I wasn’t playing bad (in the first two competitions), but my old habits kind of kicked in,’’ Ko said. “I was very passive returning serves. I had to come back (in both losses) and was more aggressive at the end of the match.

“When I started (the 2300 event) I was thinking: ‘why not be more aggressive from the beginning?’ And that strategy worked. I still lost the first game of every match, but came back to win them all.’’

Winning a title meant the world to Ko, who has had a long road back as a table tennis player — a sport he gave up on twice in his life only to see himself feel renewed in the past couple of years in Albany.

Ko was not only the best player from Georgia, he was the only champion from the southern states as most of the titles were won by table tennis players from California or the Northeast part of the country. He began the tournament ranked 100 in the the nation, but said he expects his ranking to jump into the high 70s or low 80s after his performance at the U.S. Nationals.

“It was great to win, to prove myself,’’ Ko said. “I was very happy and excited at the same time.’’