“David” Zhuang, born Sept. 1, 1963, began playing table tennis when he was 8 or 9. After starting his competitive play in China at the age of 11, he attended a table tennis sports school, at 12 had become a professional player, and by 14 was training about 42 hours a week. An early photo of David shows him with schoolmate Jiang Jialiang, future two-time 1985/87 World Champion.
David’s first international competition was the China vs. Japan match at Guangzhou (Canton) in 1981. Rhoda Samkoff, in a 1993 interview with David, tells us he won 1st place in the Men’s Singles Championship of Guangdong Province (held every four years) both in 1982 (when Jiang Jialiang was entered) and 1986. In one of these back-to-back wins, he beat another world-class star, Johnny Huang.
Along the way, David established a personal record by winning 36 major matches against foreign players—including England’s Desmond Douglas who in 1987 would be the European Top 12 Champion.
Zhuang, Jialiang, and Huang, representing the Guangdong Province Team, came second in the [Chinese] National Team Tournament in 1985 and 1988.
After getting a Phys. Ed. degree from the Canton Sports College, David moved in June, 1990 to the U.S. to join his parents in New Jersey. Apparently it didn’t take David long to find, and soon become a permanent fixture at, President Barry Dattel’s Westfield Club. “David’s very nice, very dependable,” said Barry of his new arrival. “He gives a clinic twice a week to a dozen or so of our players and, with his knowledge, his kindness, his enthusiasm, he’s really helped them.” In his interview with Rhoda, Zhuang lists “mental attitude, personality, and physical make-up as keys to qualities which may lead to a junior player’s success.” Years later, Barney Reed, Jr., in speaking of how tough David himself is mentally, confirmed that David had helped him tremendously with that part of his game.
Zhuang’s first U.S. tournament was in 1990 at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, Md., where he beat the U.S. #3 player John Onifade, then lost, 19 in the 4th, in the final to Huazhang “Satellite” Xu, also from China, a University student in the U.S. who was the #2 ranked player in the country behind China immigrant “Jack” Huang. Immediately, then, David gave notice that along with the other Chinese he was one of the top players in the country.
At the season-opening Westfield tournament, David again beat Onifade in the semi’s, this time 19 in the 5th, and again he lost to Xu. He complains that “I wasn’t strong enough here in the waist. Look,” he says, pulling on the smallest trace of flab, feeling, forcing the pinch, “I was soft, I don’t have any power today. I need to be taut here for my forehand follow through.” Here’s a guy, just turned 27, who’s used to taking care of himself.
In that ’93 interview with Samkoff, David said that he prepares for a tournament by “running four or five miles the Monday and Thursday before”, and that “included in his training are 150 to 200 push-ups a week, done in sets of 50 over a period of three or four days.” He also jumps rope and practices at the club 3-4 hours a week.
Back in 1990-91 and for years thereafter, David worked full-time—was described as a “quick-handed assembly worker at a Taiwan-controlled computer factory in East Brunswick.”
Oh, oh, another Chinese Champion, winner of the 1985 U.S. Open, Cheng Yinghua, has arrived to join “Jack” in the Potomac area. At the Jan., ’92 Westfield Open, Zhuang beats Xu, 19 in the 4th, then, despite Cheng’s baleful stare, beats him, too, 23-21 in the 5th. As Cheng waits blankly, patiently, to offer the victorious Zhuang a congratulatory hand, David, on winning that last point, roars, leaps, and, whirling round, begins pummeling away, exulting in an imaginary free-for-all around the ringed-off court…until not a phantom opponent is left standing.
You get some idea of David’s passion for winning from that pantomime. His fighting spirit also prevails when in the Nov., ’92 U.S. Open Team Championships he defeats Yukinobu Nakata of Japan deuce in the 3rd. David had been down match point and, had he lost this match, his Potomac team (Cheng and Jack) would not have gotten to the final.
At the 1992 Closed, David, now sponsored by Butterfly, lost to Jimmy Butler in the final. Jimmy’s backhand smashes and best-in-the-U.S. serves allowed him to dominate the match. Amazingly, though, from 1992 through 2000, David would be in every National Singles final except one—that’s 8 out of 9 finals (4 times he would win, 4 times he’d be runner-up). Also at this ’92 Closed, with Sean O’Neill David would win the 1st of his 7 Men’s Doubles Championships, and also with Amy Feng the 1st of his 6 Mixed Doubles Championships.
In May of ’93, David beats Darko Rop and Cheng in the first of several South Bend St. Joe Valley Opens he’ll win. His $1200 1st prize was a blessing, for he was down triple match-point to Cheng. Larry Hodges, while of course recognizing David’s smash-every-chance-he-gets forehand, says that his greatest strength is his backhand block. Larry says David’s blocks “can come out with backspin, with sidespin, or simply ‘dead,’ with no spin; they can bounce short on the table, jump out at you or anywhere in between; and they are always placed either at wide angles (especially into the backhand) or hard at the elbow (the switch-over spot for shakehands players).” These invariably set up his point-winners. Here at the St. Joe, Larry said that David’s constantly varied blocks made Cheng, normally so comfortable with his backhand loops, uncomfortable.
In ’93, David will win the U.S. Open Mixed with Chen Jing, and also the Gold at the Olympic Festival over runner-up, Darko Rop, and semifinalist Sean O’Neill whose string of 7 straight wins David stopped.
At the ’93 Closed, David again loses to Butler—19 in the 4th. But, wow, that last point. Here’s Hodges describing it: “Backhand to backhand, neither player flinching, neither player willing to change directions or step around and try a forehand—just backhand to backhand, rapid fire machine gun shots. And on and on it went! Well before the rally was close to ending, the audience was murmuring in disbelief. How long can they keep this up at that pace?! On and on and on and on and on…44 shots altogether, 22 each, and we’re not talking easy backhand to backhands, these were solid, hard drives.”
At the ‘94 Closed, though, David wins everything—does the hat-trick, and puts the feather of the Over 30’s in the band. Beats Sean O’Neill in the Men’s; his Doubles partner Danny Seemiller in the 30’s.
1995’s a good year for David. In World Team Cup play at Atlanta, the U.S. Men’s Team reaches the semi’s—their best showing in decades. David has a key win in the U.S. 3-2 victory over France—beats Christophe Legout who’ll be our 1998 U.S. Open runner-up to J-M Saive. He also has a good win over the Korean International, Lee Chul Seung.
David then successfully defends his National Championship—over Khoa Nguyen.
1996 isn’t bad either. He gets his U.S. citizenship, is an Olympian, and is named Male Athlete of the Year.
Doesn’t matter the year—David’s always winning something. Yes, he sometimes loses to Cheng—but no disgrace in that.
Hodges says that, as the ‘90’s progress, many of David’s opponents think he has the “best serves in the U.S.” No doubt they helped him win the ’97 World’s Consolation Championship, an accomplishment for which he was honored back home.
1997 was the 25th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy; it recalled the year, 1972, the Chinese paid their reciprocal visit to the U.S. David and Joannie proudly show a photo of their esteemed visitors: World and Olympic Champion Deng Yaping (who stands next to David) and her 1997 World Women’s Doubles Champion Yang Ying.
This is probably as good a time as any to tell you that longtime player Joannie Fu has become not only a coach, a confidante, to David, but also his wife. As of New Year’s, 2004, they have two children, Zoe, and Cassidy (“a Gaelic name,” says Joannie, “meaning ‘clever’”).
In 1998, David’s the U.S. Singles Champion again—over Todd Sweeris. He also wins his 4th U.S. Over 30 Championship, and the Mixed with Gao Jun.
1999’s a highlight year, for the U.S. dominates the Pan-Am Games, and David wins the Gold in 4 close games over Argentina’s Liu Song. David, though not having much chance to play among his world-class peers to up his standing in the Rankings, is still among the top 100 players in the world. Also, there’s something to be said for circuit-playing in the States. For example, he picks up $1500 at another St. Joe tourney.
At the ’99 Closed, David was runner-up to arch rival Cheng. But he won the Mixed again with Gao, and the Men’s Doubles with Todd Sweeris.
David will remember the year 2000. He’s the U.S. Closed Champion, an Olympian, and again Male Athlete of the Year.
At the 2001 World’s, David played a strong match against China’s He Zhi Wen, World #34—was down 2-1, but had him 20-18 and 21-20 in the 4th before losing. At both the North American Championships and the U.S. Closed, David won the Doubles with Eric Owens, so what did Eric do—beat David in a down-to-the wire finish in the Singles at the 2001 Closed, then upset Cheng.
Nowadays David’s faced with younger, formidable opponents, China immigrant Fan Yi Yong, Germany’s Thomas Keinath, Yugoslavia’s “Loupy” Lupulesku. In the 2002 U.S. Closed final, Lupulesku, as Larry Hodges put it, killer-spinned through David. It was obvious, Larry said, that “neither player was serving legally. Both hid the ball with their arms…[so] neither player complained.” Only a week later, however, David beat Loupy at the Blackwell tournament to earn $3,000.
At the 2003 World and Pan-Am Team Trials, David finished 1st, Loupy 2nd. But David lost again to young Owens at these Trials—though it was Eric who said of David’s blocking, “It was like he could read my mind.” In Mixed play at the Paris World’s, Zhuang and World quarterfinalist Gao Jun reached the 16th’s before David got hit with the flu and they had to default.
Older generations—say, at the 2003 Meiklejohn Senior National’s, which David dominated this past summer, or at the Nov. North American Teams where David was undefeated, or at the Dec. National’s where he again won the Men’s Doubles—probably feel it’s amazing that Zhuang can keep himself so fit as to still flash fast-attack as he does. But for people with a passion, with an identity to maintain, life doesn’t stop at 40.