NANTICOKE — Between his scorching sidearm shots and uncanny ability to fend off even the strongest returns, opponents of Sherif Shoela is pretty good at playing tennis on a table.
He’s no novice, either.
The 28-year-old native of Egypt won the gold medal in the Keystone State Games table tennis singles tournament Saturday, overwhelming his competition with his superior skill that once made him a member of Egypt’s national team.
“There is competition,” Shoela said. “It’s good, really good. This is my first time playing the Keystone tournament. I don’t play nationally anymore, I just play in tournaments sometimes. I go to get the prizes and the checks and come back.
He certainly wasn’t fooling around during the event, where Shoela’s sharp eye and fluid swings sent point after point rocketing over the net while drawing raves from onlookers.
Just the way it used to be for Shoela, who was once a US Open table tennis champion before he moved to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley over four years ago to study medicine.
“Before that, I was playing all the tournaments,” said Shoela, who is quickly approaching his 29th birthday. “I’ve been to 30 countries. I’ve played everywhere.”
Until Saturday, though, he’d never played the Keystone Games.
Mainly, because he never heard of them.
“I just found out about them two weeks ago,” said Shoela, who resides in Easton. “My doubles partner, Mark Vrabel, he told me about this tournament. So I signed and came.”
Shoela said he met Vrabel recently while playing club table tennis at the Allentown YMCA, and he also plays at Lilyit across the bridge in New Jersey.
The pair went right into Keystone doubles play, which is open to competitors 49 or younger, while the Senior Games tourney boasted plenty of entrants aged 50 and over.
“I play tournaments now just for fun,” Shoela said.
He had a family medical practice in Egypt, where Shoela’s specialty concentrated around the ears, nose and throat, but is currently close to earning his masters from IUP and hopes to eventually work in a hospital in the Lehigh Valley.
It appears he’s following in his family’s footsteps all the way around.
His dad, Ahmed Shoela, was also a doctor in Egypt who played on the country’s national table tennis team.
And he started his sons in the sport from the time Sherif Shoela can remember.
“He also played ping-pong, but he wanted me to do this,” Sherif Shoela said. “I remember when I was about five, he stood me on this small table to play. He wanted me to play table tennis. I’ve been playing for about 23 years. We used to have arguments, but he wanted us to be better. Of course now if we play, I’m going to beat him. He hasn’t played in years.”
He believes, maybe more than learning intricate angles from which to score points on the board or the ability to deliver knifing backhanded returns, that experience is critical to success in the sport.
“The main idea is starting young,” Sherif Shoela said. “This was a big advantage.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski