1983: Danny Seemiller/Kalavathi Panda Win CNE. 1983: Dominicans Vila/Alvarez Win in Caribbean.
September opens in Toronto and, lo, its CNE International time again (Timmy’s, Sept.-Oct., 1983, 16+). The boxed symmetry of the barriered-off courts—a security guard now protects the nets than can remain overnight on the tables—is early-morning pretty to look at. At 9:00 a.m., on a day when the best players here will be playing in the Men’s and Women’s Singles, all again is organizationally ready. Brian Hackeson and his desk-crew continue to run the time-scheduled matches well, are flexible to the point of being accommodating. But, my god, as the afternoon moves on, hopefully to some climax, there is just no show-casing of the important Singles matches.
All the eighth’s and, next day, all the quarter’s are played at the same time—and in less than 20 minutes the good players have come and gone, while the rest of us disinterestedly continue passing our non-playing time among the animals and representatives from the Toronto Humane Society who make sure in this Sheep and Swine Building there’s no ill-treatment. As we try with fly-adjusted eyes to watch the many court-compartments of our vision, we see that the set-up is just crazy. There are no scorecards or scorekeepers, and the umpires don’t know the score—that is, they have no interest in calling it out loudly enough for spectators to hear. There’s just no focus. Order, yes—but order without significance.
It thus becomes bizarre for the X and O-minded organizers to insist that we all wear crumpled numbers on our backs—as if passersby will avidly seek out Tournament Programs, look up meaningless names, and—what?—be encouraged to watch, save for 20 minutes, mostly poor or mediocre players. In this game the organizers play year after year, all is neutralized—and neither the adulated players or the adulating spectators can be winners. Though all is logically arranged to get the hundreds of matches played, there’s no soul-thrust, no fingertip-touch of inspiration.
It seems to me therefore that the players and spectators who come to this major tournament (254 entries this year) are being deprived of some of the benefits of table tennis. It seems to me the message (echoed by the divisiveness of TWO “official” tournament hotels) is “Hey, whatever your rating, everybody do your own thing, stay with your own clique, play your funny-rubber interchangeable matches, finish, and leave, go. (Danny and Randy Seemiller and a few of their friends drove up in a 30-foot, five-bed motor home which they parked in a lot just outside the CNE fairgrounds. From there a Pittsburgh generator kept the air-conditioning, the TV, the beer-filled refrigerator and they themselves alive in the summer heat. What about the unifying, socializing player-spectator party of years gone by? Sorry, we don’t do it anymore. It’s too expensive. No one will come.)
And yet the organizers of this tournament had $10,000 to spend—over $6,000 in prize money and over $3,000 in transportation money for the best players.
On the last day of the tournament, Dell Sweeris asked me what the regular circuit player would think were the half dozen best tournaments in North America. I thought of five immediately: the U.S. Open; U.S. Closed; the USOTC’s; Bill Hornyak’s $9,000 Duneland Closed; Power Poon’s $7,000 Louisiana Open. But the 6th? Was the 6th this one?
Women’s Singles (Captain/Coach Dell Sweeris)
Winning the Women’s Singles from the weakest CNE field I can remember was ex-Indian National Kalavathi Panda. (Can you guess what brand of rubber she uses on her forehand?) The former Bombay star (#2 in India in 1981) “doesn’t always play her hard-hitting best,” said husband Prakash, and, on losing games two and three in her final against Canadian International Becky McKnight, “had to be reminded to do so.” Actually, Panda hasn’t been Kalavathing round the tournament scene since last fall, for just a few months ago she and Prakash, who’s doing doctoral work in Material Science at Cornell, became proud parents of a baby boy, Puneet.
Panda’s five-game final opponent was 18-year-old Becky McKnight who, not satisfied with her results last year, is now being coached by her friend Yvan Dolan, a good player in his own right, who’s insisting that Becky score higher on the various physical demands being made of her at the Ottawa Training Center and elsewhere. He has her running, skipping, lifting, jumping, sprinting, tumbling….
After Becky lost the first game at deuce, the advice given to her by Dolan (and later Kosanovic—though she seemed to be doing better with Dolan) was “Don’t push Panda’s serve.” At least not high and out, thereby providing an almost perfect set-up for the Indian’s point-winning snap-forehand. “Instead, try to lift it, if at all possible.”
In both the second and third games Becky was able to mount a near unchallenged attack. But in the fourth, from 15-all, Becky missed some forehands, and Panda, moving better now to hit balls in herself, won the game and was back in the match.
Part of the reason for Kalavathi’s turnabout (she’d averaged less than 13 points in games two and three) was that, down 2-1 at the break, she’d sought the advice of longtime U.S. star Sweeris, whom she only just met at this tournament. Dell told Panda she was serving long to Becky’s backhand too much. Didn’t she see that Becky played well off that corner? “If you must serve deep,” he said, “try the forehand corner.” In general, he urged her to serve short, but to unpredictably vary the serve.
Kosanovic’s last piece of advice to Becky was that she should play more to Panda’s backhand because the Indian woman had a funny forehand and you couldn’t judge exactly where she was gonna hit it.
In the fifth, McKnight got off to a smashing 5-0 start on her serve—but then Panda, herself aggressive, caught Becky right away. A much too soft backhand serve (later repeated) started Becky’s downfall—and then she began pushing rather than stroking forehands. From 11-9 down, she lost 9 in a row for a horrible finish to a match she might have won three straight.
In the one semi’s, Panda had gotten sweet revenge on Julia Johnson who’d beaten the Indian in three in the U.S.-Canadian Team Matches earlier. (Johnson/Gloria Hsu had blanked Panda/Connie Sweeris, 3-0 in those Matches.) In the other semi’s, it was McKnight over Ai-ju Wu, 18 in the 4th.
Two good quarter’s matches. In one, Julia Johnson defeated her sister Colleen from down 2-1. Julia, in winning the Women’s U-21, beat, first, Colleen (the sisters again in the same half of the draw—was that right?), then in the final McKnight. In the other outstanding quarter’s, Ai-ju scored a fine five-game upset over Gloria Hsu, Canada #2, who’d won the Fair Play Trophy at this spring’s Commonwealth Games. And although Ai-ju didn’t exactly cause a sensation with some of her other play (“Ohh,” she said, there amid the barnyard hay, “my voice is going. I can’t breathe. Can’t taste, Can’t smell”), she did win the Women’s Doubles with McKnight from, first, Panda/Hsu, 19 in the 5th (after being down 2-0 and at 20-all in the 3rd), then the Johnson sisters.
In one other interesting quarter’s match, Connie Sweeris was surprised she’d lost that first game at 18 to McKnight. “I was playing well,” she said. “More aggressively than I usually do—was top-spinning Becky’s sidespin serve. I was up—and when I’m up, I usually stay up.” The second game Connie went on to win. But being tied 1-1 in games was not the same as being up 2-0. Soon McKnight, gaining confidence, had Sweeris on the defense. And of course, as you can imagine, Connie didn’t take it too kindly that Dell and Danny Seemiller were laughing as she was running around the back-court lobbing. “Alright, alright,” Connie admitted. “I’m not as physically in shape as I’d like to be.” (Never mind, Connie. Who is?)
Junior Girls (Captain/Coach Andy Diaz)
The U-17 Girls Champ was New York’s Vicky Wong—over Canada’s Crystal Daniel. The Under 15 Girls Champ was also Vicky Wong—over Canada’s Michele Querry. The Under 13 Girls Champ was—well, not Vicky, but Monika Thiminan over Dina DaSilva. So, USTTA, take notice. Vicky’s not yet ready to win the Women’s Championship (on losing to Colleen Johnson she lamented, “My loop won’t go on”), but she sure has potential. Partnered by Ai-Ju, Vicky, at the Friday Junior Miss Team Matches, had led the U.S. to a 3-1 victory over Canada—Querry, Daniel, and Alina Tse. Alina was runner-up in two Doubles finals—in the Junior Girls, she and Hui lost to Vicky and Ai-ju; and in the Junior Mixed, she and Yu lost to Querry and Paul Hang.
Querry, the Canadian Closed Girls U-15 Champ who’d beaten Ai-ju in the Junior Miss Team’s, was presented with the Most Improved Ontario Junior Award for 1982. She’d earned it, coming from Ottawa, an hour and a half away, into Toronto, mostly on weekends, to stay with her friend Sangita Kamble and practice by the hour at Kosanovic’s Club. As she learns more about attacking from Zoki, she’ll get a government grant.
In a recent autobiographical piece in the Ontario TTA Update magazine (reprinted in Timmy’s, Jan., 1984, 15), Kamble, a junior but among the Top 40 women in Ontario, had the following high praise for Kosanovic:
Boys U-11/U-13/U-15(Captain/Coach Bill Sharpe)
This Coaching talk leads me back to Dell and Connie Sweeris and forward to the young players here like Todd Sweeris. It occurs to me that readers might be interested in a couple of entries from Dell’s U.S. Olympic Training Center Diary. Dell got this Diary at this year’s National Sport’s Festival—but almost immediately thought, “Why should I use it?” Instead, he keeps it for a record of his son’s progress. Dell, I might add, regularly gives Todd a 5-0 start to 11. O.K., see if you learn anything from this:
Aug. 30, 1983
7:00-7:45 p.m. and 9:00-9:30 p.m. with Dad:
Practice routines same as usual. However, on Aug. 26 and 30 I started a new drill where I mixed in chops that Todd was to loop and I blocked; then we countered steady till I chopped again. The key in this drill is to get the first loop in and then to handle what comes after that. This drill is very similar to actual game conditions.
Practice rating—very good.
PS. During the 15 minutes (17 minutes actually) of F.H. to F.H. Todd only missed four times.
CNE Open, Sept. 1-4, 1983
*Todd vs. Mike Seamen (Binghamton, N.Y., 1388), 23-21, 18-21, 17-21.
*Temper tantrums again cost him the match. I mean to tell him:
Do you realize it looks foolish?
Do you realize it embarrasses mom and dad?
Do you realize tantrums cost you the match?
Do you realize you’re being discourteous to your opponent?
Do you realize if you ruin your racket you are not getting a new one? [Sure?]
Do you realize 90% of the game is mental?
Do you realize you can be disqualified?”
So how’d it go for 10-year-old Todd at the CNE?
Oh, as you’d expect, some ups and downs.
“Dell,” says Connie excitedly, “did you see, in the U-1200’s, Todd did his little flip and the other kid missed it!”
‘Yeah,” says Dell, “he learned that little flip from Eric Owens.”
But sometimes Todd’s shots don’t always go in. “Oh,” he talks to himself in a match, “you are playing so bad!”
‘Todd,” says Dell watching from the sidelines, “keep your cool now.”
Todd’s opponent picks a ball through him.
“O.K., son” says Dell. “You know you’re not supposed to push two-three balls in a row.”
Todd is not winning—and you can tell.
Half to me and half to herself Connie is saying, “I never thought I’d see the day when Todd would be acting up at the table.” And then more to herself, “And I certainly thought that if he ever did I’d take him out of the match.”
Todd, as if his concentration was divided, as if he were always keeping a watchful eye, a listening ear, on his proud parents in the background, suddenly takes this moment to turn around, stamp a little, and say, “Don’t expect me to win. He’s better than YOU, Mom!”
To which Dell responds, “Now, c’mon, son, he’s not that good.”
Also too good for Todd at this point were the best of the boys in the U-11/U-13 age groups. The U-11 Boys winner was Trung Le over Gia Ly. The U-13 Boys winner Peter Ng over Ben Chiu who’d advanced by Martin Ladouceur (from down 2-0 and at 23-all in the fourth).
Johnny Ng, 11, someone was telling me, “has the real Chinese attitude.” Why? “Because one of these CNE mornings I saw him getting ready to play he’d already run two miles.”
Ng and Trung Le are just two of the youths—14 boys, 6-8 girls, ages 9-18—trying to improve by working under the tutelage of Ontario Coach Zoki Kosanovic (himself perhaps the youngest player ever to represent Yugoslavia at the World Championships—in1975 in Calcutta). Six mornings a week during the summer, from about 7 until 10, Zoki stresses their physical rather than technical development (that would come later). Presumably, though, he has initially checked out that each has the right racket for self—the more so because that’s the topic of an article he recently gave Timmy’s (July-Aug., 1983, 18).
To summarize briefly, “In choosing a racket one has to keep in mind the three characteristics of rotation, speed, and feel for the ball that best reflect the individual make-up of the player (the racket is like a part of him/her, an extension of his arm) and the type of game he plays….For the feel of the ball it is most important to have good contact between the ball and the wood. By increasing the thickness of the rubber, one decreases the quality of one’s feel for the ball, but increases the speed and rotation of the ball….In applying spin the most important factor is the surface of the rubber; while in increasing speed the most important factor is the elasticity of the base.” Also for optimum control, how contact is made with the ball is very important. “In order for the player to find the best combination of rubber and wood, it is necessary for him to gather as much information as possible (by discussing these matters with other players) and to try as many combinations as possible….”
Often you can find Kosanovic ready to answer student questions at his open-24-hours-a-day Ontario Table Tennis Center, a 16-table facility (located in what used to be a soft drink factory on a property owned by last year’s OTTA President Ned McLennan).
At the moment, Zoki’s star madman student is Manitoba’s Derrick Black, who, embarking on a lonely, private eight-year plan to become one of the world’s best players, gave up a $385-a-month subsidy at the Ottawa Training Center and came to Toronto so he could play with the highest level players there, Kosanovic, Ng, and Caetano. Now Derrick spends his days working out at Zoran’s “pop shop” and just plain working at the tire shop next door so, as he says, “I can eat!” (Apparently, though, not much lunch, for on his lunch hour he plays table tennis.)
Recently, Derrick, who’d had a bad (too loose—finger popping up) grip has been practicing unsystematic play, which he feels better approximates what actually happens in matches. Also, to simulate the appropriate world-class effort, he and Kosanovic practice with leg and double-waist weights on—the other day Zoki had 22 extra pounds on him.
Someone said that the early morning hours of Zoki’s Coaching Program not only kept the juniors going, they kept Zoki going. Witness that day a short time ago when there was no one around for Kosanovic to practice with: after a while, Zoran said, “I’m gonna ask one of my juniors to practice with me. “ The kid was ecstatic.
The Under 15 boys was not won by a Canadian but by Billy Lipton over Patrick Leveille who’d escaped young Ng in five. In the U.S. vs. Canada Junior Men’s Team event, Canada beat the U.S. 5-3 when Vaibhav Kamble took all three and Pierre Parulekar two. But Billy, Rich Sosis, and Dave Alt all won a match—Lipton, though not always fast or severe enough, in a good showing over Parulekar, and Rich and Dave over Tim Kwan in three. Captain Bill Sharpe said that Rich “needs to get back into the ready position faster, needs to have more authority in his shots, while Dave, since he’d given directions to his robot to oscillate more, got a nod for “improved footwork.” Dave wrote a Letter to the Editor (Timmy’s, Sept.-Oct., 1983, 16) in which, after being so proud and excited at being on the U.S. Junior Team he couldn’t get much sleep the night before play, had to, as a proud American, express disappointment and embarrassment at his Team not being given uniforms to wear.
Sharpe surely spent as much time Captaining himself out there at the tables as he did the Juniors. He won the Esquire’s over Tim Boggan, and the Senior’s over Boggan again and then Bob Jewell who’d gotten the better of Bill Cheng, 20, -13, 18, 18. Gloria Lipton, Billy’s mom, won the Women’s Senior’s over Valentina Subatnikas and Loreen Chambers. Senior Doubles went to Houshang Bozorgzadeh/Siggi Kunz, 19, -18, 18, 19, over Sharpe/George Rocker, who’d knocked off Boggan/Derek Wall, 19 in the 5th.
Sharpe says “too much table tennis gets you stale,’ so a week before this CNE he played in a tennis tournament in which he was a finalist in the Men’s and a winner in the Mixed Doubles. So, wanting to mix sports like this, how seriously, after 20 years, does the former Hop, Step, and Jump Olympian take his table tennis? You decide. He plays three times a week, and says his shortstop tennis footwork is better because of his table tennis.
Lionel Cloutier, the Canadian National Champion in 1953 and 1954, and who how enjoys playing in the “old boys” competition with Sharpe and others, was watching Bozorgzadeh beat Stephane Charbonneau, 19 in the third, in the U-2100 final. Why, he wondered, was his fellow French Canadian’s footwork so bad? Why did Stephane keep taking a step back against Houshang’s stop-ball technique? He expected Houshang to suddenly loop? Couldn’t happen. He kept thinking the ball would come out to him? Also, why was he rushing? He never did seem to realize he was playing an anachronism.
Class Results (not mentioned elsewhere)
There were some good young players from the Caribbean here this year. Jamaica’s Everett Jackson, amid complaints he was too strong for the event, won the U-2000’s over Jewell who’d outlasted Paul Rozier, 19 in the 3rd. “Well just how strong was this Jackson?”one player wanted to know. “Mon,” said an apparently knowledgeable fellow with a big grin, “he’s gonna beat Kosanovic.” Maybe. But meanwhile he didn’t get by Zedpelin Law in the U-2100’s. U-2000 Doubles (individual not aggregate rating): Kam Bhatia/Lance Moore over Mariusz Czajor/John Schenk. U-1900: Michael Ng over Rozier. U-1800: John Locke over James Montgomery. Women’s U-1800: Daiva Koperski over Wu. U-1800 Doubles (individual not aggregate rating): Andrew Giblon/Ho over Sosis/Alt. U-1700: Kwan over David Lui. U-1600: Paul Hang over Leveille. Women’s U-1600: Francine Larente over Koperski. U-1400: Jimmy Yu over Peter Hang. U-1200: Ba Trieu Tran over Ly.
Under 17/Under 21
Nigel Christopher, 16, last year’s Trinidad National Champion, won the U-17’s, taking down, 25-23 in the fourth, the current Trinidad #2, 16-year-old Wayne Estwick, who in his qualifying round in the Men’s disdainfully looped down Derek Wall before later losing to Lim Ming Chui. Christopher, paired with Kiurski, lost the 17 Doubles, however, to Peter Hang/Yu. Estwick and fellow Trinidadian, 17-year-old Seamus Clarke, got a free trip to Toronto as a prize for dominating an important tournament back home. Not bad, huh?
The other member of their Solo-Crusaders Club Team, as mentor Frank Watson explained in arranging an interview for me, was Glenroy Bain, who knocked out Dell Sweeris three straight before losing to Ming Yuan. After having been sponsored by Nestles to the ’81 Pyongyang World Championships, Bain went to Japan where, under former World Champion Ichiro Ogimura, he trained with Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner (“He never looked like anything”). Every morning, Bain said, he had to get up and run (“Makes your mind very strong”), then worked at improving his footwork, his strokes. “I had a woman coach—a former world-class player—and I recommend my experience to anyone. I could live in Japan tomorrow.”
Still another Trinidadian, Steve Ragbir, whom Watson said was their best Internationalist, gave seeded Randy Seemiller some 19, 19, 14 anxious moments in his opening Preliminary round. In another good Preliminary match Pennsylvania Champ Ben Nisbet downed Canada’s feisty expatriate Englishman Steve Lyons.
Ben lost a tough one in the Under 21’s, though, to Canadian World Team member Yuan who looks younger every time I see him. In the first, Ben, up 20-19, hit in what he and everyone else thought was a winner. But Ming miraculously quick-handed it back and went on to take the game. In the second, Ben couldn’t hold a 19-15 lead—at 20-19 whiffed Ming’s serve. He did save match point with a spirited counter, but then he mis-hit one that wet-ball-like weirdly dropped and died before it even got to the net. From that he couldn’t recover.
Winning the U-21’s over both Yuan and Joe Ng was Horatio Pintea, who’d go on with Hsu to take the Mixed Doubles, first, from Caetano/McKnight, 19 in the 5th, then Ng/Panda.
Pintea reached the quarter’s of the Men’s by beating David Mahabir. Last year David had upset Ricky Seemiller here, but this year had no real chance for glory. He’d recently cracked his metatarsal bone during a mysterious 20-foot jump from a Trinidadian window and—never mind his loss to Pintea—he was lucky to be playing at all, maybe lucky to be alive.
Quarter’s (Captain/Coach Houshang Bozorgzadeh)
`Horatio drew Danny Seemiller in the quarter’s—and it was soon apparent that our U.S. Champ was having trouble motivating himself. “Ricky and I haven’t been taking enough time off in the summer,” he told me. (As a working professional, he had to be thinking of that PBTV $50 Training Tape he’d just put out, and also of his Aug. Camp at the Greentree Racquet Club in Pittsburgh.) So just what do professionals like Danny do in their off time when they’re taking a rest from the game? Why, play other sports of course. Golf? “Yeah—I had a few rounds in the 70’s.” And on joining his slo-pitch softball team after the World’s (“when they were 0 and 5”) he helped them through 30 games to a 15-15 finish.
Against Pintea, Danny, in all the CNE humidity, was finding it difficult to loop Horatio’s long serves, to get the feel of the ball. The short, spinny serves he’d normally chop low with his 1.5 anti he wasn’t keeping so low, for he was trying out a new 2.0 anti which he said later was “twice as fast.” Nevertheless, he was up 2-1 in games at the break.
In the fourth, though, down 13-7, Danny decided enough was enough. He switched rackets—went back to his 1.5 anti. Up 16-10, 17-12, Horatio, or “Hoary,” as one intimate began calling him, looked solid. But then the next moment—kuhflooey. Hoary made 1-2-3-4 costly mistakes. He tried a difficult drop off a really loaded chop; then, hoping to surprise Danny with a fast topspin serve, her served off; then he whiffed Danny’s serve; and finally, at the end, he whiffed another off Danny’s block—lost the game and match at 19. “OOSHA!” Danny at last felt the motivation to yell.
Brother Randy could only win one game against a steady Caetano—and there, at 20-all in the third, he was helped along by a bad call from the ump who ruled that Caetano’s edge ball was not (as, from my position, I could plainly see it was) an edge ball. Errol had no problem with Randy’s anti—was just killing his return of serve, his nothing ball. “Those International Team Matches Friday really keyed me in,” said Errol.
Speaking of those (how important?) Team Matches, the players and spectators showed more enthusiasm and support for them than they had in years. There was some marvelously interesting play in the Men’s and Juniors, Men’s particularly. With only four tables in play, you always knew the score, and tension could build so that captains, coaches, teammates, friends and well-wishers could care more. Since no jets were roaring back and forth above, and no adjacent auctioneer among the rabbit cages was going shrilly on and on (as there would be on Sunday, Finals Day), you could savor the enjoyment of upcoming play and have the fun of anticipating matches that might make for exciting changes.
Ricky Seemiller, who’d vowed not to shave until he beat Eric, Danny, Kumar, or Kosanovic, almost got lathered up out there Friday night. Oh, did he have Zoki (“He HAD him,” said Danny)—but again and again he just couldn’t close him out, finally lost 29-27 in the third.
Zoki, who in the Men’s quarter’s, was to destroy Yuan off on a side table, had a second marathon match, which this time he lost—against Danny. Sometimes Kosanovic was too far back from the table to power-loop effectively. The problem was, though, if he were up belly-close to the end line he’d be up on his toes in a follow through—and if Danny blocked one back Seemiller-fast, Zoki couldn’t get back down on his heels for balance before the ball would be by him.
The remaining quarter’s match would be between Ricky and Joe Ng.
Ricky had beaten George Cameron in the 8th’s—which meant that poor George because of his high rating hadn’t gotten much play here (you had to be under 2100 to enter any Class competition). Next year—and I know OTTA Executive Director Ken Kerr is receptive to this and other suggestions for improvements—perhaps there’ll be an U-2350 event so strong players can have as many matches to play as everyone else?
Ng had eliminated Lim Ming Chui in the 8th’s. Ming seemed to be suffering from a lack of competition—“I’ve been playing with my kids too much,” he said. Uh-huh. Listen, Ming, if you wanna have any competition at all in a few years given where you live, you’d better be nice to these kids, or they won’t play with YOU. Also, almost as an afterthought, Ming added, “When Ng serves underspin I’m afraid to attack, and yet if I’m tentative, that’s very dangerous, for he’ll attack.” It’s so like Chui to say that, eh? As always, in a dilemma or not, Ming’s mind is logical, balanced.
Ricky was telling me later how, just before his match with Ng—and this sort of thing had happened in the Team’s (“How’s Joe getting all my loops back? Why isn’t my ball zinging in?”), had, in fact, been happening all year—he’d had to face suddenly erupting bubbles on his rubber and broken zits on his pips. Naturally he’d had to make a change and this hadn’t helped his confidence any.
Having beaten Ng two deuce games in the Team Matches (a big difference those made in the U.S.’s 5-4 win), and blocking Joe down now in the Singles to go up 1-0 and 20-19 in the second, Ricky looked like his experience would pull him through. But Joe made this silent scream for adrenalin, came out of the second game a winner, and changed the match around. Perhaps you could say Ricky eventually lost in four because he just didn’t handle Ng’s serves well enough—he needed to make them very short and didn’t.
All four semifinalists were left-handed—make of that what you will. Of course Caetano’s always been thought something of a casual one-sided player whom you might not take too seriously—not until you suddenly see him out of position and hence perversely ready to curl in a spectacular forehand. Said Danny before their match, as if still smarting a little from that deuce game he had to go with Errol in the Team’s, “I want to blow Caetano away.” Which explains maybe why he lost the first game at 19? He was trying to win the point too early instead of working to set it up?
Earlier Danny had said he didn’t want to open points on these CNE tables because the ball skidded too much. The winner, he said, would be the player who made the fewest errors. So in the second game it seemed that Danny was deliberately playing more and more defense. But up 19-15 he was anything but secure, for Errol quickly pulled to 19-18. Then occurred, though, what may have been the biggest point of their match. Danny blocked one soft, right up the middle, and Errol blew it.
In the third game, with the match tied 1-1, Caetano was up at the table, backhand blocking, containing Seemiller beautifully. Danny was having problems moving and motivating himself. “I’m so stuck on one foot!” he screamed. Down 13-8, 16-8, he just didn’t have enough strength to hit the ball out of the infield. “C’mon, man, you gotta move the ball!” brother Ricky shouted.
Following a 10-3 run by Danny, Errol’s lead was drastically cut. Yeah, Caetano had his own psychic problems. Foremost of which was he wasn’t waiting for the right ball to attack. “Let me just take this one” was how Errol later explained his thinking “’cause with this cement floor the ball doesn’t always come true off different parts of the table and I might not get a better one.”
Down 19-18, Danny served, courageously followed. But then he pushed one into the net. Up 20-19, Errol was too late on a forehand pick. Deuce. Then Danny got the ad—only to see Errol, Houdini in handcuffs, wrist in a winner off Danny’s serve. Deuce. Again Errol was late—with a forehand counter. But, amazing, again Errol did a slight-of-hand trick with Danny’s serve. Deuce. Now Caetano served and followed and thought he’d won the point—but Danny, in perfect anticipation, caught Errol off guard with something lethal, a martial-arts block faster than the eye could follow. This, too, may have been the biggest point of their match, for the third game now went to Danny, 24-22.
In the fourth, with Seemiller up 8-1, surely it was all over. As Danny said afterwards, he was just looking for Errol to start his walk round the table to shake hands. But Caetano kept playing and was soon repeatedly catching Seemiller wide on the forehand. Why? Because Danny was just standing there flat-footed. He just didn’t seem to want to work. “C’mon, Danny! C’mon!” Ricky was yelling as Caetano scored point after point. “You gotta take it to him!” But it was Caetano who took it to Seemiller and on they went into the fifth.
Ricky was urging Danny to go to Errol’s forehand (“Danny listens to me—he takes my advice”), and soon Errol’s chances were fast diminishing. But then, though Danny had Errol 16-11, he didn’t seem to have his usual killer instinct, perhaps still didn’t take Caetano seriously enough. Which was a mistake—for Errol, anchored at the table, angling the ball beautifully, blocking the ball soft and straight down the line, began threatening. He’d climbed to 18-16—and then Danny got his third important swing point, an edge. This stopped Caetano’s rally. At the end, on losing, Errol threw his racket high into the air, caught it coming down behind his back.
Said one observer, “See what a good touch Errol has when he’s straight up at the table.” Said another, “I’ve been telling him for years to play that way. This style is much better for him than playing throw up balls with Kosanovic.”
As for five-game winner Danny, “He didn’t spin enough balls down the middle,” said Ricky.
In the other semi’s, Kosanovic, up 2-0, seemed to have Ng, his star pupil, well in hand, despite a momentary scare in the first game. Down 20-14, Joe had gotten five in a row, to make it 20-19, then had served his best and, surprise, Kosanovic had squat-looped in a winner.
But in the third, Ng began getting some all-out topspins in, accompanied this with some jogging round the court, and an upraised fist, and Zoki (“C’mon, concentrate!’), having perhaps a problem motivating himself, couldn’t get it together to finish Joe off. In the fourth, Ng, looping and dropping the ball to all parts of the table, had his coach on the run. Still, Zoki was up 19-16, 20-18 match-point, when…Joe was a tumbler, an acrobat, a trapeze artist. He flipped, he flew, right over Kosanovic into the fifth.
There, however, he was 5-0, 7-1 quickly cornered. Or was he? How well Ng must know Kosanovic’s game. As the players exchanged places at the turn, it was obvious Zoran no longer had the hold over Ng he once had. Down 11-9 after that start, Zoki himself was down, was just not following his openings forcefully enough. By 18-17, though, he had gone ahead. But then again Ng got the drop on Kosanovic (Zoran isn’t as fast as he was?). At 18-all Zoki scored on a perfect placement. And then, in counterpoint to a kid crying just outside court, Ng served into the net—was again double –match-point down.
So what happened? Joe served and fearlessly followed for a winner. And now Zoki pushed one into the net, followed by banging the ball down on the table so hard that it came back up, trampoline high, as if some part of Zoki himself was soaring disembodied away.
As his anger flew forth, Kosanovic came back to the ready and smacked in a forehand. But then he pop-returned Joe’s serve—and crack! Deuce. Then Joe topped Zoki’s serve long, but got back into it by scoring on a serve and follow. Deuce. Another see-saw round of points. Deuce. Now Kosanovic failed to get the ad, missed a loop—and sent his racket sailing past Joe’s end of the table. Joe with the ad served—and Kosanovic surprised him with a gutsy, perfectly positioned return. Deuce. Oh, oh, Zoran whiffed one—ad to Joe. This was it?...Nope. Deuce. And deuce again. Finally, down 27-26, Zoki tried again to loop Joe’s serve—and this time it didn’t go in. Ng then was the winner….Zoki was upset. “Kosanovic lost,” said Zoki. “Now Canada is happy.” Maybe, too, Canada was just a little pleased that Kosanovic/Caetano beat the Seemillers to win the Doubles?
In the Singles final, who do you like? Consensus was that if Seemiller jumped on Ng early it would be hard for Joe to fight. In the first game, Ng was up 16-12 and Danny was looking very sluggish. But by 18-all Seemiller had gotten to him, had then rolled home with two carefully controlled loops.
In the second, Seemiller was just too steady, Ng too impatient. Up 20-15, Danny had only to win another point to practically start for Pittsburgh. But 16, 17, 18, 19, 20—Joe unexpectedly deuced it. Then he almost missed a ball completely, but then recovered to deuce it. Now Danny, waiting, blasted Ng’s slow loop into the stands, but Joe was again at deuce after viciously looping in a winner. Finally, Danny prevailed, and so avoided what might have made for a sticky five-game situation.
The third and last game was no contest, Soon Danny, just going through the motions, had won his eighth CNE Men’s Championship.
Dominicans Star in Caribbean
At the Caribbean Championships in Guyana (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 10), the Dominicans won the Men’s Team, Juan Vila was a finalist in Men’s Singles to Cuba’s Raul Betancourt, and a Winner in both of his Doubles—the Men’s with Fermin, and the Mixed with Perez. The Cuban Women, Armas and Miranda, were too strong for the opposition.
David Valoy, former member of the Dominican National Team, reports that his fellow countryman Mario Alvarez, known to many readers from his repeated play in the States over the years, won the Caribbean Top 12 tournament held Oct. 21-23 in Curacao. In the late rounds, Mario beat in succession: Trinidad/Tobago’s Nigel Christopher (15, -18, 14), whom we’ve just seen win the CNE Junior Championship; Trinidad/Tobago National Champion Seamus Clarke (15, -19, -20, 17, 18); and in the final Jamaica’s Colin McNeish (15, 17, 19).
“Alvarez is now both the Latin American Champion and the Ibero-American Champion. Last February he won the Latin American title by defeating Claudio Kano from Brazil (now the South American Champion) in a five-game final. In the same month in the Ibero-American Games, held in the Dominican Republic, he downed runner-up Gustavo Ulloa from Ecuador in straight games.
Nice going, Mario!”