USA Table Tennis

History of USA Table Tennis Volume 12

CHAPTER THREE

            1983: World Class Play (Eric and Danny Abroad). 1983: “Junk Rubber” Arguments. 

            We saw in the last chapter that Eric Boggan had interrupted his play in Europe to attend the Simons’ Lehigh Valley Open. How, based at Nisse Sandberg’s Angby Club just outside Stockholm, had Eric been doing since his disastrous loss to Danny Seemiller in the U.S. Closed? Win or lose, his day-in, day-out European play had to be of far more help to him in preparing for the World’s than his week’s mid-April stay with the U.S. Team at Colorado Springs.

            Understandably, though, Eric’s loss to Danny had to have affected his psyche, for here are excerpts from a Jan. 8th, 1983 letter he wrote home: 

            “…Life’s really beat over here. Nothing to do but practice, read S. I. mags, and write letters. I don’t really plan on living in Europe anymore. I want to live in America, find some kind of job and be able to train in the evenings. [He thinks maybe of going to California]…I just want to be happy in life. In Europe, I’m totally bummed out. I can’t make the money I thought I could make over here, too many contract quibbles. Many times I go to the halls and my heart just isn’t into it. I just kind of go through the motions….God, it’s dull over here and I really miss my country. How did I play so good in Seoul when I hadn’t trained? Because my head was good. When you get to my level in t.t. it’s all mental. If I had to live in Germany, I’d go crazy, absolutely nuts. I’d be so cooped up, I’d pull a Nicholson in The Shining!...[But then…] When I get home we have to talk about my future plans. I’m not fighting too hard now, but it’s coming. I think I’m starting to get my head together. When you’re all alone over here you think a lot.”           

His “down” attitude was reflected in his play as he began his second-half league matches, for in January and on into February he suffered an unusual number of losses. However, in Angby’s 6-4 win over Rekord, Eric beat Denmark’s Kim Kartholm, who earlier in the season had defeated him, lost to European Youth runner-up Jonny Akesson, 19 in the 3rd, but paired with Michael Frank to win a big doubles match from Kartholm/Akesson, 19 in the 3rd. Angby and Rekord are in a stretch run for the fourth and final criss-cross qualifying spot that would give them a shot at winning the League Championship—so their 6-4 win here was very important.

            I’ll return shortly to Eric’s last matches for Angby. Meanwhile, I want to say that during this win-one, lose-one stretch of about six weeks, Eric did get up out of his psychic sick-bed the second week in January and at the urging of England’s Alan Ransome flew to London and thence to the Middlesborough 8-man Invitational. At the airport he was met by the media men, who of course delighted in thrusting a microphone at his reputation as the table tennis John McEnroe.

            The English officials, Eric felt, were a bit much—except for the man who ran the tournament, he was nice. And Ransome was cool—didn’t want any hassles, just wanted the players to be decent, responsible; so no problems with him. One linesman Eric thought ridiculous—leaning aerie-like at him when he’d serve (“Fault!” this official was more or less obliged to say once), but then seemed to be glassy-eyed indifferent to others (not all of whom were serving legally). But, so what, said Eric, who’d made up his mind before he got on the plane that he wasn’t the least bit interested in furthering any querulous image.

            McEnroe and England aside, Eric felt he was wanted and respected at the tournament and this helped him to try to make a good showing. Helpful, too, was the one-table venue. Lit against darkened surroundings, it was aesthetically perfect.

            In his first match, Eric had little trouble with Michael Daugard, Denmark’s #3 at the last World’s. Then, in the semi’s, he met Andrzej Grubba, Europe #11, who’d just beaten Graham Sandley, one of England’s best. Eric played well against Grubba—beat him two straight by countering to his backhand, moving the ball wide to his forehand, and looping steadily off his push. In the other semi’s, England’s former European Champion John Hilton beat Czechoslovakia’s Milan Orlowski, Europe #7, who’d knocked out Canada’s Joe Ng.

            In the final (“No foot-stamping, please…No foot-stamping, please”…as the crowd cheered), Eric out-steadied Hilton in the deciding third—earned as a result 800 pounds, 10,000 Swedish crowns, or $1,500, which, if it was any consolation to him, was more than the first-place money in the U.S. Closed.

            The weekend following the Middleborough Invitational, Cardiff hosted (TTT, Feb., 1983, 2) the Norwich Union Welsh Open, and, after I give you the results of that, I’ll let you read spectator John Prean’s “Impressions” of what’s going on in the Game (John’s the outspoken father of English teen sensation Carl Prean). Results: Men’s Team: Final: England (3)-France (1)—Secretin didn’t play. Semi’s: England (3)-Hungary (2)—Douggie Johnson/Graham Sandley beat Jonyer/Gergely, and apparently Kriston lost two matches. Quarter’s: Hungary survived Germany, despite the fact that Germany was up 2-1 and Stellwag was up 1-0 and 20-7 match point. That’s right—it couldn’t happen but it did. Jonyer won that game from 20-7 down and then won the third. After which Kriston (who would go on to knock out Stellan Bengtsson in the first round of the Men’s Singles), finished off German Champion Bohm—and, impossible, a stunned Germany was out of the event.

            Women’s Team: Hungary over England who, spurred on by Lisa Bellinger’s two wins, had advanced over Germany.

            Hungry’s 1982 Italian Open winner Zsusza Olah won the Women’s Singles by successfully reading the twirling racket of Germany’s Kirsten Kruger.

            The televised Men’s Singles was won by the increasingly remarkable Jacques Secretin over Michael Appelgren. In the one semi’s, it was European #1 Appelgren vs. European #2 Jan-Ove Waldner, who recently dethroned “The Apple” as Swedish Champion. But although young Waldner was having a marvelous season—he’d won the Seoul Open in August and was runner-up in the French Open to China’s Jiang Jialiang in December—he could not contain Appelgren here.

            The best match of the tournament was in the other semi’s when Secretin, lob- defending from all over the court, just got by, 19 in the fifth, English Champ Des Douglas who’d beaten him two months earlier in the Lambert & Butler Championships at Wembley. Other crowd-pleasing matches were: England’s Carl Prean beating Renverse and Dvoracek before losing to Kriston; Bohm over Jonyer; Sweden’s Ulf Carlsson over Gergely before succumbing to Douglas in five; Appelgren in five over Bohm; and Waldner over Bundesliga-Baby, Sweden’s Eric Lindh, in four.

            Here’s John Prean (Feb.-Mar., 1983 English Table Tennis News) with some comments on the Game: 

            “When I watched the European Youth Championships I first heard the new sound, hollow and unmistakeable that heralded a new table tennis stupidity and one perhaps more worthy of attention than the so-called funny slow rubbers. This glue, a rubber solution, speeds up rubber which is already too fast. Players hit harder, or seem to, and make more mistakes, as Waldner and Appelgren certainly showed, class players though they unquestionably are.

            If you believe, as I do, that it is the faster rather than the slower rubbers which ruin the game as a spectacle, then the emergence of  the ‘glue’ cannot be greeted with unrestrained joy.

            It dries quickly and when it has hardened it loses its effectiveness and another layer has to be applied. Obviously as you apply the layers the blade quickly becomes uneven. Therefore the top players with unlimited supplies of rubber apply the solution only once and then throw or give the rubber away. One well-known player was reported monetarily to be using 1,500 pounds worth of rubber a year. Certainly, when I was in Europe, I could observe the Swedish juniors throwing their sheets (retail value in England about 10 pounds) out of the window where the children of underprivileged nations (like England) picked them up eagerly. These rubbers, tossed out of windows with such high spirits and abandon, were but for the layer of ‘bicycle glue’ brand new and of a quality not often seen by lesser lights, but that one layer had made them unfit for the young aristocrats of our sport.

            In this egalitarian age one thing we do not need are different qualities of equipment for the stars and the rest, or to keep aspiring players in poverty as they try to match the rubber consumption of the great.

            I overheard two young players as they spoke of improving their game. I had expected them to disappear into the practice hall, but I was wrong. They were heading for the bicycle shop.

            Whether what they found there, intended to mend bicycle tyres, is indeed the mixture used by the Swedes and many other stars I have no means of knowing. The concept I learned some time ago was Chinese. Certainly I had detected that famous sound first of all on Chinese blades. Players genuinely believe that at best this is a new El Dorado, at worst something they cannot afford to be without if they want to hold their place in the rat race.

             Our sport seems engulfed in a deep death wish. Whilst our legislators rush out to ban the bats of Douggie Johnson, Dave Barr, and Carl Prean or at least to render them ineffective or useless, the Game’s greats are rehearsing a new farce. 

            Stamping

            Talking of farces, the stamping farce too continues unabated. The undisputed lemon must go to France’s Christian Martin who stamped throughout with truly Gallic intensity and must be favourite in the stampede toward the first rheumatic knee. That, however, is his problem. Mine was that the noise was so deafening that I had to leave the arena addicted though I otherwise am to great defenders. My headache grew too intense.

            Throughout that match Martin was not warned. Imagine my surprise when, on another table, I saw a lightweight junior called for stamping as he came down hard on his front foot—as his devoted coach no doubt told him to—and the point he had won honestly and honourably was taken away, 

            Umpires

            All this may be taken as enmity towards umpires. The opposite is the case. England has in fact some superb umpires who know when to be courageous and when to be unobtrusive, but we are now heading in uncertain directions when different umpires do different things and inconsistency becomes part of the sport. I see further clouds: new, possible unclear service laws, and rubber legislation which will be easy to circumvent and leave much bitterness and bickering in its wake.” 

            Best results of the Canadian Top 12, played at Brossard, Quebec, Jan. 22-23: Men: 1. Horatio Pintea (who’d also won the Nov. Top 12), 10-0. 2. Chi Chong Wong, 6-4/7-2. 3. Bao Nguyen, 6-4/5-6/+4. 4. Current Calgary Closed Champ Larry Lee, 6-4/5-6/-10. 5. Eddie Lo, 6-4/5-6/-12. 6. Peter Joe, 6-4/5-7. (Errol Caetano, 6-1—loss to Bao Nguyen and struggling—withdrew in his 8th match after losing the first game 24-22 to Mitch Rothfleisch.) Women: 1. Thuong Thanh Mach, 10-1 (loss to Aucoin). 2. Becky McKnight, 9-2 (lost to Forgo). 3. Julia Johnson, 8-3/5-3. 4. Adel Karim, 8-3/4-3. 5. Micheline Aucoin, 8-3/3-4. 6. Christine Forgo, 8-3/2-4).

            Mariann Domonkos, 24, Canada’s # 1 woman player and the Nov. Top 12 winner, didn’t participate in this January’s Top 12, nor did Gloria Hsu, a mainstay of the Canadian National Team. They had distinguished themselves at the World University Games in Fortaleza, Brazil the month before. Though losing in the final of the 14-entry Women’s Team’s to South Korea, they did very well, after being seeded fifth, to win a Silver medal for Canada. They compiled a 5-1 record—including a win over 3rd-Place finisher Japan. In their toughest match, they scored a gutsy win over West Germany who finished fourth. Gloria went down two straight, but Domonkos got them out of big trouble by taking her opening match, 22-20, 22-20. Then they rallied, -15, 18, 16, to take the doubles. And again Mariann held 21-12, 21-19 strong for the win. The Toronto Globe and Mail quoted 38-year-old Guoxi Su, a Chinese Coach (National Team member from 1961-65) who was under contract for a year to coach the Canadian National Team, as saying it was the best he’d seen the Canadian women play since his arrival in September. The Canadian men (Joe Ng, Alain Bourbonnais, and Peter Joe) slipped by Switzerland 5-4 to finish fourth behind South Korea, West Germany, and Brazil.

            Best results of the European Top 12, played Feb. 4-6 at Thornaby Pavilion, Cleveland, England. Men: 1. Czechoslovakia’s Milan Orlowski (975 pounds), 8-2 (lost to Sweden’s Lindh and France’s Secretin). 2. England’s Des Douglas, 7-3 (lost to Sweden’s Ulf Bengtsson, who, though 2-8 here, has played well enough all season to make the Swedish Team to the World’s; whereas former World Champion Stellan Bengtsson, Men’s semifinalist at the ’81 Novi Sad World’s, may not make the Swedish Team this year). 3. Mikael Appelgren, 7-3. 4. Erik Lindh, 7-3. Stellan Bengstsson had to withdraw because of a throat infection after only three (eventually cancelled-out) matches, in one of which he beat current European Champion Appelgren. Mikael himself dropped a match to Lindh. Women: 1. Rumania’s 14-year-old sensation Olga Nemes (475 pounds), 9-2. Nemes beat 1982 European Champ Bettine Vriesekoop (finished third at 7-4) and 1980 European Champ Valentina Popova (finished fourth at 7-4), lost to England’s Hammersley-Parker and Germany’s Kirsten Kruger. Runner-up was Russia’s Filura Bulatova, 8-3.             

            That same weekend, Feb. 19-20, that Eric Boggan was playing in the States, Danny Seemiller was in Yanai, Japan, competing in the Western Open. Here’s his Report (TTT, May-June, 1983, 10): 

            “The Western Japan Open attracted 1200 players and the playing hall was filled with spectators and players each day.

            In the Men’s Doubles played on Saturday my partner An Jae Hyung (South Korea) and I, after a rocky start, went on to take the event. It was difficult in the early rounds because we’d never played together and we weren’t sure what each of us could do. Because An didn’t speak any English, our strategy talks at the table were non-existent.

            But after the round of 16 we did make ourselves understood to one another. I spoke to Dick Yamaoka in English and he then spoke in Japanese to another interpreter, who then spoke to An in Korean. In the semi’s and the final we won easy.

            In the Men’s Singles (it would take nine rounds to win this event) I played four consecutive defensive players. However, I had little difficulty making the final. (Hasegawa, always a threat, lost in the quarter’s to Miyazaki.) In the final against An I was never in it. Got blown out 21-7 in the first. In the second I caught An at 12-all but then lost a string of points and couldn’t come back.

            An Jae Hung is 18-years-old and is considered South Korea’s top new prospect. He has a fine backhand. This really surprised me because penholders usually are weak on that side. At the Seoul Open in August An not only defeated me, but Eric Boggan and World #29 Maehara of Japan.” 

            Returning now to Eric’s play in Sweden, we find that Angby did win its final Feb. 27th tie against Halmstad, 6-2—with Eric defeating Magnus Karlsson, 19 in the third, and Jorgen Persson in straight games, 13, 14. [Earlier, Persson had been coached by the famous and much-honored Swedish International Kjell Johansson, and years later would become the World Singles Champion.] Thus, Angby made the criss-cross playoffs and would play Sparvagans a two-out-of-three match to decide who’d advance to the final. .

            Too bad for Angby, but they lost a close tie to Sparvagans, then tied another—and that settled it, for Rules do not permit the third tie to be played if one team has a win and a draw. In both ties Angby had a good chance. On Mar. 13th, Eric, back to his winning ways, won two close matches—beat Swedish Champion and European #2 Jan-Ove Waldner, 18 in the third, and former Swedish Team member Lars Franklin, 19 in the third. But, since Eric and Mikael Frank couldn’t take the doubles from Waldner/Franklin, a concurrent singles win couldn’t be counted and Sparvagans won 6-3 in what could have been, with an Angby doubles win, a key 5-5 tie. On March 15th, Eric lost to Waldner, 2-0, but again beat Franklin, 2-1. Unfortunately for Angby, Eric and Mikael again couldn’t win the doubles and had to settle for a 5-5 tie. 

                        Eric to Germany

            Having played for two years with Europe’s best young players, Eric leaves Nisse Sandberg’s Angby Club and the exceptionally sensitive and helpful Swedes he lived and worked with, knowing not only that his game but he himself as a person matured considerably. Having signed a Bundesliga contract to play the #1 position for the Bad Hamm Club, he hopes to have a similar yet of course new experience living and working in Germany. He expects to spend a lot of time with, and learn from, his new teammate and hard bat expert Franz Huermann, whom many readers will remember as having played quite successfully in the States in the 1970’s.     

            We also saw in the last chapter Eric’s brief analysis of how to play the Feint/Black Power combination-bat play of Arunkumar—presuming of course one had learned how to read changing spin. That players weren’t dedicated to doing this—and complained about the modern-day bat-flipping they were up against—irritated Eric’s brother, Scott Boggan, who bluntly made his views known…and received in reply similarly straightforward responses.

            Starting off this exchange was Dave Skipton’s Letter to the Editor (TTT, Nov, 1982, 10) titled “In Praise of Garbage”: 

“Dear USTTA:

            Just wanted to let you know what a great time I’ve had at some of your tournaments. After months of boring practice and the same old faces, I decided to enter some events out here in the East and loosen up, ya know what I mean? Well, first event, and it wasn’t long before this one guy comes along with a bat like you’ve never seen—red RANCID FISHMEAT on one side and red RAPE on the other. First serve he gives me gets pushed five feet high, and I get a TRP down my throat on the ensuing smash. After that, I’m having trouble standing up at the table, what with me laughing so hard. It’s tickle-me-pink city on every shot—I start giggling even before he serves the ball, and, before you know it, my stand-up comedian on the other side has me in total, hopeless stitches! I mean, the guy doesn’t have a stroke to his name, but Holy Cow! can he ever serve! That there bat was twirling so fast not even the flies could keep up with the FISHMEAT side, and it just got me to guffawing wondering what part of the floor, wall, or ceiling my next shot was gonna hit. By the time the tournament was over, my ribs were a basket case. Like sitting through Jonathan Winters, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase one right after the other, ya know?

            Hey, these bat twirlers are worth every penny of the entry fees, rating fees, and equipment costs, not to mention those long worthless hours of practice getting my strokes ready to play straight-man for these irrepressible jokers. Who else could provide so many yaks in an otherwise dull game? Paddle hit de ball, ball hit de table, other paddle hit de ball back—we’re talking jaw-cracking yawns, right?

            The fans wanna see spectacular misses, scroogie-balls and whatever else it takes. I mean, when you haven’t got a foggy what’s coming, it’s a brave new world on every shot! A real gamble. Goodbye boredom, hello EXCITEMENT! And you can’t deny the charm of watching somebody trim, prune and water his paddle to keep the GRASS growing. So thanks again, USTTA, for protecting and encouraging them purveyors of mirth and fending off the do-gooders who want to put dull, plodding skill on a pedestal. Lord help us if sportsmanship and fair play ever make a comeback—what will the manufacturer do with all that surplus FISHMEAT! How can he stay in business when RAPE doesn’t pay?

            I can’t play in any more of your tournaments (doctor’s orders—bad for my ribs), but you betcha I’ll be there in the stands, gladly forking over good money to watch two garbage players show us what this game is all about. What can I say, USTTA, except ‘Keep hauling out that garbage!’

                                                                                                DAVE SKIPTON

            P.S. Let’s bring back finger-spin serves, too. No sense having all these second-ball attacks slowing things up. Besides, what happens if the receiver actually guesses right on which surface was used to serve the ball? He might even make a decent return, and nobody wants that to happen!” 

            This drew “You Can Junk Those Comments”—Scott Boggan’s take (TTT, Dec., 1982, 12) on Skipton’s “Garbage” article: 

            “I’ve always wanted to write any number of articles in Topics, criticizing this and that, but then I always knew someone would write how Scott Boggan thinks the world owes him something, and then I would have to counter-attack, and so on. No, I thought, it would all be too much like little bitchy children crying and complaining. So I always refrained from what I feared might be thought just more pettiness. But after reading Dave Skipton’s article (ironically titled “In Praise of Garbage’), I thought ‘Enough is Enough!’ My first impression (and my last) of Mr. Skipton was ‘What a …’--well, unprintable.

            I’m sick and tired of seeing these articles about how some 1800 fish loses to a 1500 player with no strokes because of this so-called ‘junk rubber.’

            These losers are writing these articles because they’re a bunch of babies who can’t take losing and just want an excuse to quit.

            In talking about playing an opponent who ‘doesn’t have a stroke to his name’ (what can this 1860 player, Skipton himself, know about strokes?), Skipton complains that his opponent would continually ‘junk’ serve the ball and, if Skipton were to get it back at all, would then smash it down his throat. What Skipton would do on his own serve, he for some reason never tells us.

            He does tell us though that soon after he popped up that first serve he was in ‘total helpless stitches,’ was ‘laughing’ so at the absurdity of it all. Really, after that first serve and he was down 1-0, he already had that ‘I can’t play against this s___’ attitude. So, whether he knew it or not, he very quickly gave up.

            And he’s criticizing these ‘junk’ players? He’s the loser. He didn’t have the intelligence to compensate and adjust to the spin, didn’t then and doesn’t now—and never will have in the future?

            At the recent Nissen Open I was watching a match between Ben Nisbet, who plays very badly against this ‘junk’ stuff, and twirler Brian Thomas who plays with it. I could see which side Brian used from 40 feet away.

            And this fellow Skipton can’t see it against a hacker?

            Reading the spin has nothing to do with natural playing ability. But why is it that the better the player, the better he can read this ‘junk rubber’?

            Skipton writes how he couldn’t stop laughing. This loser’s laughing because he doesn’t have the courage and guts to fight it out. I know I too have sometimes had trouble fighting—but Skipton’s attitude is a losing one.

            C’mon, buddy, you’re not laughing at your opponent or at Fate, you’re laughing at yourself—because unconsciously you’re a losing coward and so outwardly make a joke of it all. Compare your table attitude with that of twirlers Brian Thomas or Dave Sakai, and we’ll see who’s the ‘irrepressible joker.’

            Skipton talks of skill. But he doesn’t seem to realize that it takes quite a lot of skill to play with this ‘junk rubber.’ Take a look at the best players in the world or even just the best players in this country who play with, say, anti. They’re fighters. And those great players who don’t play with ‘junk’ are fighters too—not quitters like Skipton. They gut it out and learn to read the spin instead of just helplessly bitching.

            People complain about ‘junk rubber.’ But I for one don’t exactly know what sponge people are talking about when they say ‘junk.’ I do know that Eric, Danny, and Ricky play with an anti that, whatever they have on the other side of the racket, you can either see or hear the difference. Is that anti, then, ‘junk rubber’?

            Skipton also brings in talk about sportsmanship and fair play. What the hell does this have to do with what kind of sponge a player uses?

            Moreover, even if you did want to think like that, hadn’t the ‘junk rubber’ somewhat ‘evened up’ the gap that earlier existed between the offensive and defensive player? When super-thick and fast 2.5mm extra-hard sponge first came out, the attackers had only to flip their wrist and the ball shot out, seldom to be consistently, effectively returned.

            I’m cutting down this sarcastic Skipton, now apparently retired from the sport, because I think he and all other babies deserve it. It’s always the losers who complain. I’ve never heard a player that plays well against ‘junk’ complain.

            In my mind there’s only one complaint against the stuff that I can understand: that from the spectator’s point of view, it ruins the sport.

            Part of that problem is that it’s not so easy to play with ‘junk.’ And it’s very hard to play well with it. Skipton is playing against a turkey using it. Imagine, discouraged as he so easily is, if he could see how hard some of the serious players train and practice with it.

            Anyway, I’m all for new and trickier sponge. Why? Because it just increases the variety and intensity of our sport. Table tennis is a most complex and fascinating sport—so let’s not have the chickens ruin it. Accept the fact, Dave Skipton, that it’s not the sponge that’s the loser—it’s you!

            I hope this is the last ‘junk rubber’ article I ever see. But whether it is or isn’t, Go, ‘junk’ players—junk it to this…unprintable if he ever has the guts to show up at a tournament again.

                                    —SCOTT BOGGAN

                                    Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA” 

            Now a number of responses to Scott’s put down of Skipton. I’ll begin with this “Open Letter to Scott Boggan” (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

“To Scott Boggan:

            After reading your (Dec., ’82) attack on Dave Skipton for expressing a not unpopular opinion about ‘junk rubber.’ I feel compelled to say a few things about your attitude toward the average player and his right to express his views without being grossly insulted by another player.

            What you said was not merely an expression of opinion but rather a direct attack on Skipton. Seldom have I seen a more childish reaction to a relatively harmless letter. I’m sure we’re all aware of the macho image you are trying to cultivate, but the use of offensive phrases like ‘1800 fish,’ ‘turkey,’ and “Accept the fact, Dave Skipton, that it’s not the sponge that’s the loser—it’s you!’ certainly is not going to make the fuzz on your chin grow any faster.

            Apart from the personal attacks you made, your attitude toward the average player is an insult to the vast majority of players in this country. You fail to realize that it is the average player, the great number of them, who make it possible for you and other top players to win your prize money. If it wasn’t for us hackers, the proletariat of the USTTA would not exist. We are the backbone of this organization and I resent your elitist attitude. Until this sport is at least a tenth as popular, and as profitable, as, say, tennis, you really have little business acting as though being in the same room with a 1500 player is a professionally repulsive experience.

            Sour grapes? Of course. But the point I made is valid. And, Scott, the next time you wish to impress someone with your aggressiveness, try duking it out with Larry Holmes, where I’m sure, you can ‘tough it out’ as easily as you can against junk rubber.

                                                                                    Ed BECHTELHEIMER

                                                                                    Walled Lake, MI” 

            Here’s a viewpoint from Don Gunn (TTT, May-June, 1983, 14): 

            “…Nor does an article from Scott Boggan raise my hackles as it does for so many readers. One might wish that he could express himself more temperately, and briefly, but like all of us he is the product of his heredity and environment. There is no point in saying that one is free to speak, if we then ignore the content of his remarks, to concentrate solely on the manner of their delivery. Anyway, if a man has the right to write, he also has the right to be wrong.

            And perhaps he is not wrong. Remember, he is not playing the same game that most of the rest of us are. Beyond some ill-defined point lies an entirely different kind of table tennis that we peasants know not of. What most players are doing bears as much relationship to top table tennis as Little League does to World Series….” 

As we continue, first, a few quick viewpoints:           

            Thanks, Ed (TTT, Apr., 1983, 14)

“To the Editor:

            Thank God for people like Ed Bechtelheimer who has put into such beautiful words the explicit thoughts of so many of us!

                                                                        —HENRY S. GODSHALL, JR.
                                                                           Perkasie, PA 18944” 

            Thanks, Scott (TTT, Apr., 1983, 14)

“To the Editor:

`           After junk rubber is banned, can we get net and edge balls banned? They sure do irritate me, and just about all the criticisms I’ve heard about junk rubber can be applied to them too.

            Cliff Smith and I sure enjoyed Scott’s (Dec., ’82) article.

                                                                                             —Nancy Hill Persaud

                                                                                             Bartlesville, OK”

“…Please read Scott Boggan’s Dec., ’82 article about junk rubber. LOVED EVERY WORD OF IT. …”  Mildred Shahian (TTT, Apr., 1983, 24). 

            As usual when voices are raised in Topics, there’s always someone who sees humor in it all. Here’s Stephen Walker in an article called “Saucy” (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

            “One of the strangest stories I ever heard concerns Les Enslin of Albuquerque. Seems the old gent reputedly roasted his rubber to give it the kind of playing characteristics he wanted. Unfortunately, the problems with this approach are staggering. For instance, how would you tell if the rubber was done—by sticking a fork into it? How would you compensate for high-altitude baking? Could you stand the smell of sautéed Sriver? Of course, once the boys from the Tamasu labs get into the act, there’d be no turning back for any of us. Manufacturers will send us cooking instructions right on the rubber package. I happen to have a modest example here: ‘TORNADO and TERIYAKI SAUCE, for that authentic Oriental flavor! Cover Tornado with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then lightly baste with Teriyaki sauce until glaze forms. Sauce will neutralize all spin for up to three months. Repeat process as needed, or until rubber has consistency of cement.’ Well, I suppose it might make the game a little classier.” 

            Back now to “Game’s No Fun Against ‘Junk’ and another reader who didn’t like Boggan’s article (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

“To the Editor:

            …Dave Skipton’s “In Praise of Garbage” planted tongue firmly in cheek and wrote in good humor, while at the same time making some valid points against the use of ‘junk’ rubber. This prompted a reply from Scott Boggan in which Mr. Boggan demonstrated his wisdom by explaining why he had previously resisted the urge to write in Topics, but then unfortunately broke his own rule. I read Mr. Boggan’s article with increasing astonishment and incredulity. Mr. Boggan managed to call Mr. Skipton a ‘baby,’ a ‘loser,’ a ‘coward,’ a ‘chicken’…questioned his intelligence, and only just stopped short of questioning his ancestry. I’m sure other readers wondered, as I did, why the hysteria? Good heavens, man, get hold of yourself. Well, I think I have the answer. I wasn’t around when baseball outlawed the spitter, but I’m sure that when rumblings in that direction first began to surface, those pitchers who employed the pitch must have felt pretty much as did Mr. Boggan. When things are going okay for you, you don’t want to see ANY changes which might upset the applecart. This has nothing to do with the good of the game, and everything to do with looking out for oneself. [But Boggan said he was all for “new and trickier sponge.”]

            What Mr. Boggan fails to appreciate, however, is that the Skiptons of the world have had the game changed on THEM! And their gripe is not less valid. From what used to be a game in which player competed against player, the game has now become one of equipment vs. equipment. Consider this question. What is the reason WHY players resort to junk rubbers? I suggest that the objective is to gain an advantage provided by the equipment itself that the player could not obtain from his own playing ability. From where is that advantage derived? Primarily, it comes from the hope that the opponent will be UNFAMILIAR with the racket. And hence won’t know HOW to handle it. Then he can exhibit all the ‘fighting spirit’ he wants and it won’t do him one bit of good. Let me make this clear. A complete novice who is playing the game for the first time and who has no knowledge of spin can ‘try’ as hard as he likes, but he has no chance until experience teaches him how to handle spin. Do we call him a ‘baby’ and a ‘loser’ because he fails to adapt to spin halfway through his first game? [Surely that “complete novice” is not analogous to tournament-goer Skipton?] Yet the purpose of junk rubber is to place the opponent back in the position of being a novice…against THAT PARTICULAR RUBBER! Thus, junk rubber is an equalizer in the sense that it minimizes the importance of skill, and THAT is the basis for the complaints against it. However, and this is the reason why people like Mr. Boggan cannot understand the complaints, the above does not apply to the TOP players. For them, the extra playing time they get assures practice and experience against ALL types of rubbers. Thus, junk rubber is not an ‘equalizer’ against them as it is against their lesser opponents. Thus, junk rubber is actually GOOD for top players by making it more difficult for lesser players to break into their circle. But is it good for the game?

            Yes, I can hear what you’re saying. Why don’t the lesser players simply practice more? But where’s their incentive? [To learn how to play against all players?] What the Dave Skiptons of the world are complaining about is NOT that they are losing, but that they are not having as much FUN. If the enjoyment has gone out of the game, then so has the incentive to put in the time to reach the level of ability of the Scott Boggans of the world. But then I don’t expect anyone to understand this argument [—is it so hard to understand?—] if they are ALREADY at the top of the game. After all, winning provides its own fun, right?

            In the final analysis, the opinion of Scott Boggan, the opinion of Dave Skipton, the opinion of myself, the opinion of anyone, all mean absolutely nothing. [Huh?] The only thing that matters is the collective opinion of EVERYONE [all those whose differing individual opinions mean absolutely nothing, but when collected mean…?] for that is what determines the good of the game. For that reason I was absolutely floored to see Mel Eisner’s survey in the December, ‘82 issue of Topics. A survey? You mean it has finally occurred to someone to find out what the rank and file think? [“Rubber restriction,” said Mel in his February, ‘83 survey of what he called not a ‘Junk’ but a Defensive Rubber Survey, “is an important player concern.” Who could have guessed—except for the myriad number of Topics articles on the subject these past years.] Outstanding! Right on, Mel. May I suggest an additional question be added to your survey? I know this will get the usual knee-jerk reactions about anti-progress and so on. (Progress? Are the complainants sure they know what that is?) Anyway, here’s the question. Suppose, just suppose, that table tennis adopted ONE racket and made that the standard for everybody! Just one type of rubber, one permissible thickness, one type of wood, and it’s the same for everybody. What would that DO to our game? Would it be (a) more or (b) less fun to play? Would games be (a) more or (b) less interesting to spectators? Think about it. Table tennis has been spectacular in its lack of success over the past 15-20 years. You were the Champ through 1982, Mr. Boggan. How much money did you make last year? How does your income compare to Steve Garvey’s? How many people outside your immediate family have ever heard of you?

            I’m not suggesting the fault lies with Mr. Boggan. I’m suggesting the fault lies with the game, and particularly with what junk rubber proliferation has done to it. Dave Skipton pointed out a valid area of concern. Burying our head in the sand is not going to make it go away

                                    —KEN McINNES

                                    San Diego, CA” 

Oh, oh, a different viewpoint—“Junk Those Excuses” (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

“To the Editor:

            …[Like Scott Boggan,] I have also considered writing something in Topics, but have not done so for quite another reason. ‘Who,’ I asked, ‘would listen to such a hacker as myself? I would then conclude that only fools and morons would pay any attention to me, and who wants to be admired by fools and morons.

            Fortunately, Scott has solved my problem. I doubt that I could have voiced my thoughts better than Scott did his, yet the idea is the same. Our sport, like all others, has no room for wimps or babies. If you don’t like the equipment in our sport, get out, go play another game, go play in the street.

            I play in two tournaments a month, sometimes more, and the proliferation of ‘junk’ in our area is really incredible, not only in the rating events but in the Open as well. In the Open we have Brian Masters, Dave Sakai, Igor Fraiman, Ron Lilly, and B.K. Arunkumar. All of whom use some sort of ‘junk.’ Sean O’Neill is the only contender in the Open who uses ‘normal’ rubber—i.e., the hardest, fastest, thickest sponge his sponsor can come up with. Does 16-year-old Sean complain about having to play all of these ‘junk’ players? Never. Not a word.

            I have played all of the above players and rarely if ever had any problems reading the spin, even against Arunkumar. I don’t think my losses to these players have anything to do with their rubber. I was simply outclassed.

            My own opinion is that in playing someone who uses ‘junk’ you simply have to concentrate even harder than normal. I consider it a challenge to play such a player, be he 2000 or 1400. I look on it as a test of my concentration, my mental toughness.

            I myself do not use any ‘junk,’ and I have no intention of ever doing so. My game is predicated on serve and attack, and I do not feel cheated if someone uses ‘junk’ to get back my shots. He has the right to do so, just as I have the right to use ‘normal’ rubber to try and overpower him

            I recently beat an 1850-1900 player who uses long pips and anti. The next weekend I lost to a 1400-1450 player who uses inverted and anti. Both are choppers and I had played both players before. I knew what to expect from them and they knew what to expect from me. I looped and killed, they chopped.

            ‘How,’ you may ask, ‘could I beat an 1850-1900 chopper and lose to a 1400-1450 chopper?’ The reason is simple. When I won, I was well-rested, alert, and eager to play. When I lost, though I was eager to play, I was tired from having worked until midnight and not getting home until 2 a.m. and then getting up at 6 or 7 a.m. What I lacked was concentration. But so what if I was tired. That’s my problem, not my opponent’s. I lost, and that’s the bottom line, no matter what the circumstances.

            If both my arms were amputated and I played with my racket between my teeth, would that be an excuse to lose? No. There is no such thing as an excuse to lose. Arms or no arms, tired or not, if I go out to the table, then I must accept the outcome. If I’m sick, so what? Can Ratings Chair Neal Fox account for that and all of the other excuses I’ve heard players use? Net’s too high, net’s too low, the table should be round, his side of the table should be bigger than mine, we should play outside (I always play better in the rain), and so absurdly on. Really, you wouldn’t believe some of the excuses I’ve heard. When I played those two matches I was speaking of, I simply accepted the congratulations of one player and congratulated the other. And then I played my next match.

            And while I’m on a roll, I’d like to make a comment about George Rocker’s letter [shown in Vol. XI, 430] complaining that lesser players are not getting their due. I’ve seen George at many tournaments and played against him once in a doubles match, and I consider him to be a gentleman and a credit to the game. But, really, no one can make a living at this sport in this country now without a healthy sponsorship, so what would happen if, say, half of all Open prize money was distributed to players like George and me? Don’t the top players deserve not only the respect and admiration of the lower players, but prizes which reflect the difference in their playing levels? Say Scott Boggan could outscore me 10-1 (which is highly probable). Then I would feel guilty if I won more than 1/10th of what Scott did.

                                                           —STEVE JOHNSON

                                                            Pasadena, MD” 

            Robert Seales, in his “Reflections on the Combination Racket Controversy” (TTT, Mar., 1983, 10; 12), correctly sees apt similarities between the furor over the new sponge rackets that occurred in the 1950’s and the outbursts over the new combination-bats in the 1980’s. These bats are so much the bane of many players and spectators that again the ITTF feels impelled to act on their behalf. As I’ve gone over this History in great detail in my earlier volumes, I’m not going to go into Seales’s repeat of it here. However, I do want to put forward his point of view regarding combination rackets that prompted ITTF President H. Roy Evans to warn of “declining spectator interest and reduced funds” (borne out by ESPN’s inability to get advertisers for the 1982 U.S. Closed after filming seemed relatively assured?). Evans feels that of the proposals before the ITTF Congress the most likely one to gain support is that “all rackets must have a different colour on each side.” Here’s Seales’s feeling about combination rackets: 

            “…The reaction of some players to the advent of new, anti-spin rubbers is quite remarkable. Instead of trying to develop the necessary skills to play effectively against combination rackets, they make silly remarks about ‘junk rubber.’ This is in fact a derogatory term used by impatient, under-skilled players who seek to express their frustration in an insulting manner, while failing to acknowledge the time, patience, and skill it took for their opponents to learn to play with a combination racket. Furthermore, as far as I can detect, the great majority of serious table tennis players use ITTF approved rubber, and, to the best of my knowledge, the ITTF does not approve ‘junk.’

            …It has been said that History repeats itself. Now in the 1980’s (as in the 1950’s) there is a new group of people who wish to impede the march of progress. Their complaint is that combination rackets, especially those with the same color on both sides, are destroying the sport. I absolutely and categorically reject this argument. Experience has shown that, given sufficient time and practice, even moderately skilled players adapt and learn to read the varying spin (or no spin) of the different rubbers on combination rackets…” 

            Now to Larry Hodges’ “Sorry, Scott, But…” another Letter critical of Scott’s put down of Skipton (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

“To the Editor:

            …I’ve known Scott and his family for a long time, and I hope he doesn’t take this letter personally, but I find his article both short-sighted and downright wrong.

            I’ve known Dave Skipton (the victim in Scott’s article) for a long time, and find nothing of what Scott imagines of him to be true. Scott again and again calls him a quitter and a loser—and, yes, it’s true, Dave does lose most of his matches against racket flippers. (But I recently saw him come back to win from down 20-15 match point against a Seemiller-type flipper Five hard loops in a row to get to deuce. Some quitter!)

            [Problem is, in his article here Larry’s not focusing in on the voice readers hear writing in to Topics. It’s that Skipton—Skipton persona, if you like—Scott objects to. Larry says, in real-life Skipton is not like the persona he adopts in his letter. But of course Scott has no reason to know about “five hard loops to get to deuce”—that’s not got anything to do with, is totally foreign to, the reality being described. The voice is not that of a winner but a whiner. WHY does Skipton write with relentless complaint? If he adopts the convincing persona of a helpless loser, is he not in some significant way at risk for others, or even self, to see him so?]

            However, what Scott doesn’t seem to realize is that a good number of players play the sport for recreation—they don’t want to spend all the time necessary trying to learn how to play against all the intricate rubbers now possible. Only the very serious players do that. The others learn the basic strokes and play matches for fun!

            One of the joys of competition is matching your shots with those of your opponent. But when a recreational player tries that in a tournament against a flipper, two things generally happen. First, he finds that, although he sees how the racket controls the ball, he doesn’t know which side and so cannot read the spin! And second, when he serves, he finds that his serve, and any subsequent shot, is returned in such an inexplicable fashion that the shots he has he can’t use! The result? No fun! And that is how an ‘1800’ fish can lose to a ‘1500 player with no strokes.’ [So, o.k., both McInnes, in his article, and Hodges in this one, says that for many players tournament play is now just no fun. So what do such players do?]

            Dave Skipton is an all-out forehand looper. If you loop to his forehand he will try to loop back at you. Yet, as I occasionally get him to grudgingly admit, he would be a better player if he blocked more, didn’t play so wild. Why doesn’t he change? Because he’s not there week after week just to win—he’s trying to enjoy the game. And he does. [Skipton maybe, but not the whining letter-writer who says, “I can’t play in any more of your tournaments.”] At the Eastern’s I remember hearing Scott scream after a match, ‘I hate the game!’ And Dave’s the loser?

            From a purely tactical point of view, I am annoyed when Scott talks about how easy it is to see or hear different racket surfaces. That may be true for a U.S. Team member with reactions like Scott, but it just doesn’t hold water for most. I’ve been rated over 2100, and yet against an Eric Boggan or a Dave Sakai, I have extreme difficulty reading which side they use, even when they push! And if I can’t read it, how is some ‘1800 fish’ going to? Even if you read the rubber after contact, that gives you only a split second to react. Against a non-flipper, you at least know before contact approximately what’s coming. Yet, before branding me just too dumb to learn to read the rubber, I must point out that I have a very good tournament record against combination rackets—my last two tournament wins were both against ‘flippers.’ Obviously, a serious tournament player such as myself has to learn to play against it. [So, against all but some top players, because you’ve worked at it over the years, you CAN read what an ‘1800 fish’ can’t?]

            Scott also attacks Dave’s sportsmanship. Again a dead miss. Dave is, believe it or not, a good sport, even when he loses to flippers. Scott’s the one who screams when he loses, often after not really trying in unimportant matches.

            But here I must agree with Scott over Dave in one thing: using a weird rubber, or flipping, does not, in itself, mean poor sportsmanship. People who dislike someone solely on the basis of his racket covering are at fault. But I do not fault the player who protests playing against some weird flipper, as long as it is not a personal thing. If nobody protests something that is wrong, it never gets changed, does it? And I do not believe Dave takes a personal dislike to flippers—he is merely contemptuous of their games.

            When Scott asks what an 1860 player can know about strokes, he further annoys me. An 1860 player may not be as much in the know as Scott is, but he at least knows the basics. The difference is that the top player is more often into serve and receive, has an ability to read spin, an ability to keep the ball in play at a faster pace, and his timing, consistency, footwork, versatility, and various advanced techniques are better. I know a 1300 player who once hit over 1,000 forehands with me without a miss and with pretty good form! Yet, in a match, he was helpless because he couldn’t adjust to changing spin, was simply not coordinated enough. Lack of coordination or a high rating doesn’t mean you don’t know anything about strokes—it merely keeps you from becoming a top player.

            It is true, as Scott says, that the combination racket has, to some degree, brought back the defensive game. But except at a high level, it has not brought back anything a spectator wants to see. An 1800 combination-racket chopper does not specialize in defensive retrieves—he relies on forcing a quick error on the part of the attacker. This very rarely makes for a good rally. Is this good for spectators?

            Letter after letter is written to Topics on the subject of ‘junk rubber’—yet all seem to be written by extremists. Why can’t anyone write objective articles, pointing out the pros and cons, and come up with an unbiased conclusion? Very few attempts have been made at this. For what it’s worth, here are my conclusions,

            I’ve lived and played in North Carolina, where to flip is to break one of God’s Commandments, and in Maryland/Virginia, where rackets twirl so fast we use them to air-condition the club in the summer! I think I’ve heard all the arguments, all the viewpoints held by various players. I’ve found that most top players, including myself, actually like the variety combination-rackets bring to this game.

            I’ve also found that, except for the extremists, most players who are against junk rubber are mostly against two things—flippers and long pips. And while many players (including myself) would like to ban long pips, a solid majority believe that different- colored racket surfaces would be enough of a change, since this would allow many established players to at least continue playing with the same rubber combinations that they are used to.

            So how about it? I’ve heard that the ITTF is voting on just such a proposal soon. If it were passed, it would take away much of the deception, while leaving the variety. Since players like Scott, who so easily read the rubber, like variety, let’s give it to them—only make it so that the rest, the average player, can also read the rubber!

                                                                        —LARRY HODGES

                                                                            Takoma Park, MD” 

            As if mind-reading Larry’s request for an “objective, unbiased” article on ‘Junk’ rubber, Dennis Steele looks for just such an approach in his “Put Junk Rubber Question To Rest?” (TTT, Feb., 1983, 10): 

“To the Editor:

            Recently I ventured away from my home turf to an out-of-town tourney. There I was confronted, for the first time, with a number of opponents using combination rackets where both racket sides were of the same color and where one of the racket coverings was either anti-topspin or long pips-out rubber.

            Against these players I did very poorly, especially in returning their very well- disguised serves.

            Following the tourney I began to wonder if there was a non-emotional, non-subjective means of determining whether players using a certain type of racket covering really had an advantage due to racket covering rather than superior skill.

            My conclusion is that there may well be a way, via empirical research, to make that determination.

            I claim no special skill or expertise in empirical research design. However, I do know there would have to be a hypothesis, such as ‘There is no significant difference in points, games, matches won between players of equal skill, regardless of racket surface covering.’ There would have to be some sort of control group, such as players of equal skill using (roughly) equivalent racket coverings, say, pro-topspin inverted rubber.

            This research could be carried out in a lab, or more likely at local tourneys. Preliminary results could be sent to Topics for publication.

            The advantages of generating this kind of objective data are several. First, if the USTTA is to alter rules regarding racket standardization, it should do so on the basis of fact, rather than personal opinion, preference, ‘hunch,’ or emotion. Secondly, if there is a clear advantage to one type of racket covering over another, then the sport and those of us who enjoy playing it have much to gain. Finally, with a sufficient body of knowledge, perhaps we could put the so-called ‘junk’ rubber question to rest, at least until the next advance in a rubber/racket covering.

            Surely one or more of you readers have the ability to design such a project. Why not do so, and share it here in Topics.

            Any takers?

                                    —DENNIS A. STEELE

                                    East Peoria, IL” 

             No, no takers.