While in Toronto last October for an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) youth tournament in Markham, Trinidad & Tobago Association president, Reeza Burke, hooked up with good friends and former Guyana players Bruce Edwards and Andy Anderson and long-time Canadian resident, David Mahabir for a few drinks.
A five-time T & T champion, Burke had accompanied Arun Roopnarine and Aaron Wilson – two of the twin-island republic’s top young players – as the manager/coach.
When Mahabir expressed an interest in playing in this year’s T & T national championship during friendly chatter, Edwards – the 1974 Central American & Caribbean champion – immediately predicted he would win the tournament.
Edwards was bang on target.
At age 62, Mahabir became T & T’s oldest singles champion, brushing aside the competition that included a nine-year-old racquet wielder who cried after winning one point in three matches in the round-robin stage and 14-year-old Wilson – the 2012 Tobago Open champion – who he defeated in straight sets in the final.
Two-time regional champion, Lionel Darceuil, won the singles competition five years ago at age 55.
Now back at his Scarborough residence, Mahabir – who also captured the T & T national veterans’ crown – is preparing to represent the twin-island republic at the Central American & Caribbean tournament in St. Lucia from August 27-31. The preparation includes practicing with Edwards and Anderson, jogging and swimming.
“I will put in the work necessary to compete at that level and I will be ready,” pledged Mahabir, who has been playing the sport since age four and is ranked 16th in Canada.
The married father of an 18-year-old son said this was his first opportunity to return to the twin-island republic to play in the national championship. His son graduated from Bill Crothers Secondary School last month and is expected to travel to England in August to train with Manchester United’s reserve team.
“Because of family commitments that included taking our son to soccer practices and matches, I didn’t have the time to leave here and play in Trinidad,” he said. “Now our boy has finished high school, I had the chance to be away from home for an extended period.”
On his way to the final, the unseeded Mahabir clinched seven round-robin matches, disposed of Terrence Corbin 11-6, 11-5, 11-3, 11-8 in the quarter-finals and defeated defending champion and top seed Curtis Humphreys in a thrilling best of seven semi-final.
After dropping just 12 points in the first three games, Humphreys stormed back to win the next two matches 11-8 and 11-5 and was leading 7-3 in the sixth game when Mahabir regrouped and won the final eight points.
“I hit the deck after making a shot in the fourth game and I don’t know if that had anything to do with me slipping up,” said Mahabir. “But I was able to pull myself together at a critical stage in the sixth game and finish off what was by far my toughest challenge in the tournament.”
While impressed with the competitiveness of the young players in the competition, Mahabir said they need international exposure to improve.
“They have to play against better competition to get better and the only way they could do that is by travelling to tournaments and clinics outside of the country,” he said. “This summer, there are four Canadian juniors who are heading to China. Trinidad and Tobago has to consider doing the same thing for its junior players to improve.”
Born in England while his parents were in their final year of medical school, Mahabir returned to T & T after they graduated and attended Lodge School in Barbados for four years before migrating to the Greater Toronto Area in 1969.
His father, Dr. Winston Mahabir, who practiced psychiatry in the Greater Toronto Area, passed away at his winter home in Mexico eight years ago. His mother, Claudia Soodeen, who is a trained radiologist that never practiced, resides in T & T. Mahabir’s great-grandfather – Timothy Roodal – was a business magnate, labour leader and mayor of San Fernando.
While pursuing microbiology studies at the University of Guelph, Mahabir played cricket and went on to represent Limers in the Toronto & District Cricket Association (TDCA) league and Ontario as an all-rounder.
However, tennis – table and lawn – were his first love.
Courted to play semi-professional table tennis in Germany, Mahabir was also invited to represent Canada at an Over-40 lawn tennis tournament in Peru. He missed both opportunities.
“My mother wanted me to continue schooling instead of playing table tennis for money and I did not make the trip to Peru because I was being asked to come up with nearly $4,500 to play in that competition and I think that was not fair since the Canadians were only contributing $500 for me to compete,” he said.
In table tennis, Mahabir represented Canada in the 1980 Rothman’s International Open tournament and against the United States four years later. The 1992 Over-40 national champion also played for the province for a decade up until 1994.
An ITTF certified coach, Mahabir was the Bermuda junior and senior teams’ head coach from 1989 to 1992, the Canadian coach at the 2005 Maccabi series and the province’s assistant junior coach from 1985-1989.