Albany table tennis star Ko dominates Georgia State Games

Albany’s Carlos Ko just won his 3rd straight title in hardbat table tennis at the Georgia Games recently.

Albany’s Carlos Ko just won his 3rd straight title in hardbat table tennis at the Georgia Games recently.

ATLANTA — He is the king of hardbat table tennis, a unique sport Carlos Ko has mastered along the way to also becoming a nationally respected player in open table tennis.

The two venues of table tennis are different, but Ko excelled at both last weekend in the Georgia State Games, where he once again dominated the hardbat event.

Ko, who was born in Korea but has made Albany his home for years, won the 2010 national U.S. Open hardbat title to establish himself as one of the top hardbat players in America. He has been winning since, and he won his third consecutive hardbat title at the Georgia State Games over the weekend.

And he won it without much of a fight.

Ko went through the round-robin bracket easily to reach the final, and when he got there his opponent retired in the first game, making Ko the champ. His opponent, Xin Peng, won the hardbat title last month in the U.S. Open.

“(Peng) was exhausted,” Ko said when asked about the default in the finals. “He had just had two long matches in the open tennis tournament, and he had to go from that open match to my match in about five minutes, so he was really tired. We started to play the first game, and he withdrew and defaulted the match.’’

Hardbat table tennis, opposed to open table tennis, is a new and popular form of the sport that uses a non-padded, no-sponge hard paddle.

Ko was just as proud of his title in the 40-over open singles division, where he beat Peng for the title.

Peng, who is originally from China, had been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world in the 40-and-over division of singles table tennis, and he won first place in the U.S. Open in Michigan last month.

“He dominated in the U.S. Open,’’ said Ko, who didn’t compete in this year’s U.S. Open. “He won the hardbat title, and he also won the (50-and-over) singles title at the U.S. Open, and he beat a lot of high-ranked players there.’’

That’s why the Georgia State Games title meant so much to Ko, who just turned 40.

“I was happy because he was coming back from the U.S. Open, and nobody thought I would beat him,’’ Ko said. “In the first game, he beat me, 11-5, and it looked to everybody else like I couldn’t beat him. I was struggling in the second game, and I was fighting every point.’’

That’s when the match changed. Ko won the second game, 11-5, and then he started feeling his game change.

“During the third game I was praying on every point,’’ Ko said. “I was still fighting but felt my game getting better.’’

He won the third game, 11-5, and then came right back to win the match with an 11-5 win in the fourth game.

“I have kind of a weakness with my backhand,’’ Ko said. “But in the fourth game everything was working. My backhand was on fire.’’

Ko also finished fourth in the men’s open singles division, and took second in the open doubles division with doubles partner Petro Spirbu.

“I’m 40, and my level is (still) improving,’’ Ko said. “I feel like I’m playing better now than I did when I was in my peak when I was 20. I’m training real hard and traveling hundreds of miles every week to play in tournaments in Tallahassee and Atlanta. It’s definitely paying off.’’

Ko, who is the owner of Homeboy Jewelers on West Gordon Avenue, also won the men’s open singles title in the New Jersey state tournament last month and finished second in the men’s open singles division in a prestigious tournament in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago.

“I’m still up there,’’ he said. “I’m winning and playing better than ever.

“My goal this year is to go to the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas in December.’’