Mountain View resident Kef Noorani was just 6 years old when he first picked up a table tennis paddle. His dad, Kashif, used to play the sport when he was a kid, so Kef decided to give it a go on the family’s ping pong table in the garage.
“After he saw I was enjoying it, he started actually training me,” said Kef, who’s now a 12-year-old sixth grader at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. “Then we went to the local table tennis club a few months after and I started playing with some of his friends.”
By late 2018, Kef was getting serious enough about the sport that he decided to compete in his first tournament.
“I think I got a silver and a bronze in that,” he remembers. “Ever since, I’ve been playing a lot more regularly and a lot more tournaments.”
Today, Kef is ranked No. 1 for his age group (under-13) in the United States by the International Table Tennis Federation, and will be heading to France in January to play at the World Hopes Challenge, an annual competition hosted by the Federation.
“Every year, they identify the top talent in the world,” Kef’s dad, Kashif Noorani, told the Voice. “The idea being that, these are the kids they want to nurture, they want to devote special resources to.”
Earlier this year in June, Kef snagged an impressive second-place finish at the U.S. Team Trials for youth under 13, despite being seeded fourth going into the competition. Kef wrote about his experience playing at the trials in an article for Butterfly Online, a table tennis-focused platform.
“The boy that beat him, he’s 12 years old and already a professional training full time in Spain,” Kashif said. “The fact that Kef even got to the finals was pretty impressive because ... he’s going to school full time. Table tennis is just a secondary activity, while these kids are sponsored and sent to full time training in different countries.”
Kef is a jack of many trades: he plays soccer, basketball and football for fun in addition to his table tennis passion. While he used to play soccer competitively, Kef said he prefers the solo aspect of table tennis.
“My favorite thing is the competitiveness, like everybody wants to win, and that really motivates me,” Kef added. “I also like making a lot more friends from all over the country and the world.”
Some of Kef’s favorite table tennis memories are talking and laughing with his competitors right before a tournament and then, just minutes later, being in a fierce competition with them. It’s that fun, yet intense dynamic that keeps him coming back to the sport, he said.
“The most challenging part for me, and this will get better over time, is accepting defeat when I lose and starting over with a good mental game, like being focused in every match,” Kef said. “Sometimes you play a lot of matches in one day, so it’s very physically and mentally tiring, so I want to learn to always treat the match the same.”
His upcoming tournament in France won’t be the first time Kef’s traveled internationally for his sport. In September, he went to the Dominican Republic, where he played at the Pan American Championship. Kef made it to the quarter finals for the under-13 age group before being defeated by the world ranked No. 1 under-13 player, Enrique Rios of Puerto Rico.
“That was definitely my most exciting (game) by far,” Kef said.
As he looks forward to his short-term goal of performing well at the World Hopes Challenge in France early next year, Kef has even bigger aspirations in mind.
“In the long term, my goal is to play in the Olympics,” he said.