1984: Americans Find Table Tennis Rewarding in Sweden. 1984: $8,000 Louisiana Open—Insook Bhushan Takes Women Singles; Eric Boggan Wins Four Events.
Readers of this continuing History know of the Swedish-U.S. Exchange Program that, since 1978, thanks to Sue Butler and Angby Club-mentor Nisse Sandberg, have encouraged more and more young players on both sides of the Atlantic to expand their knowledge of the Game, the World…of Life. In addition to those young Americans we’ve read about in the past, among them such familiar names as Eric Boggan, Scott and Jim Butler, Brandon Olson, Sean O’Neill, Jim Doney, and John Stillions, others sometimes that we don’t right away hear about also make the trip abroad. And of course as we know from our U.S. Opens many young Swedes have come to the U.S.
“Why would U.S. youngsters want to go to Sweden?” Sue Butler is sometimes asked.
She replies: “It doesn’t cost any more to go to Sweden for five or six weeks than it would to participate in five or six big tournaments in this country. In fact, it would probably cost less. With large American tournaments spread so far apart geographically, both time-wise and for the compact competition in Sweden (a large, generally accessible tournament there every weekend), the trip abroad makes sense.”
“Why, then, would the Swedish youths want to come to America—maybe just for the one U.S. Open tournament?”
Sue has a reply for that too: “They come here for fun, for fast food, and American TV more than anything else. The summer is a non-playing season for table tennis in Sweden, so many of the better Swedish players are rewarded by their parents or their clubs with a trip to America.”
Rich DeWitt is one young American player who wrote about recently going to Sweden (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 8):
“With my friend Rick Bowling from the States, I recently trained for five months in Sweden (about four hours a day) and improved a lot. I’m not playing in tournaments here in the U.S. I’m just working and saving my money so I can go back to Sweden, hopefully in August, and play there. The conditions are so horrible in the U.S. and are so beautifully organized there. Printed draws and programs are sent out weeks in advance. Every match has a club umpire, and the tourneys are always in big halls with wooden floors and high-quality Stiga tables.
Just about every town has a nice club where kids can go to play under supervised training. The cost to the kids or their parents is negligible, for the local government pays. Moreover, if the kids are good, their clubs will pay their tournament expenses. Big tournaments are well publicized before and after the event. Indeed, in the recent Swedish Top 12 tourney, when Appelgren and Lindh exchanged some really heated remarks, it was plastered all over the nation’s biggest papers.
China’s 1973 World Champion Hsi En-ting, now a world-famous Coach, gave me some pointers while I was in Sweden, and I’ll pass them on to you. (He also showed me, just in passing, some illegal serves: the stop and curve balls that came out of his hand were just incredible.)
Hsi told me to work constantly on serve and attack, and to develop strength on both the forehand and backhand sides of the table. He told me to train 4-5 hours a day in two roughly two-hour sessions, with perhaps an additional hour of physical training: some days I should run; other days I should do push-ups and sit-ups. I should always do at least 10 minutes of shadow footwork, and at least 15 minutes of serve practice.
Hsi said I should strive to train every day faithfully and not fanatically—because if you try to train like a madman, say 8 hours every day, chances are you won’t have the mental capacity to handle that regimen and will quit completely. As long as you train to the best of your abilities you should be happy and confident and shouldn’t worry about winning. [But how do you know what “the best of your abilities” are unless you push yourself, and “winning” is what to a professional it’s all about, isn’t it?]”
In Sweden, Rich had attended the Hallsta Masters Cup Tournament and (Timmy’s, May, 1984, 14) he has some commentary on that for us:
“In a quarter’s match, Swedish speedster Erik Lindh beat a sluggish Tibor Klampar two straight. The Hungarian seemed really fatigued, but of course, with his up-to-the-table big bullet loops, was always dangerous. Klampar, the Swedes say, shows how good one can be without any footwork.
Lindh went on to play what Hsi En-ting called a ‘historic’ match, for it brought ‘a new level of speed’ to table tennis. Lindh’s opponent in this flash-match was the new Chinese super-star Chen Longcan, a 19-year-old pips-out penholder who took everything right off the bounce and who hit very well from both wings. Chen had such an unflappable exterior that never once did I see him frown or smile. Two of his other eccentricities, if you’re interested: he never eats butter or drinks soda.
The level of speed Coach Hsi said he was talking about had to do with the player’s speed of recovery getting back into position, the speed with which he started to move his feet in relation to when the ball came off his opponent’s racket. Hsi told me that moving properly was more important than moving fast, and that keeping a well-balanced ready position at all times was vital.
After winning the first easily from Lindh, then going 14-8 up in the second, Chen looked like a shoo-in. But Erik played brilliantly, scoring 13 out of 15 points to turn the match around. Hitting two-winged winners in with incredible speed, Lindh was totally pumped, and the crowd of 2,000 helped him to stay that way. In the third, again down 14-8, Erik again rallied—to 14-all—but then Chen got tough. He shut down the Swede by ending every point within 2-3 balls to win the game and match at 15.
In the final, Chen beat Europe’s #1 player, service-master Jan-Ove Waldner, two straight. Waldner had taken out Ulf Carlsson in the semi’s, after ‘Tickan’ had shown too much spirit for a suspiciously casual-looking Xie Saike. Carlsson beat Lindh for 3rd Place in an exciting exhibition match—with the players driving the fans wild at one point by jumping onto the table and playing with their feet!”
Waldner does get his share of wins though. His Sparvagens Club won the Top Men’s Division of the Swedish League—beating runner-up Soderhamns in 6-3, 5-5 ties at home and away. In Women’s play, Varbelg got the better of Sparvagens 8-5, 8-4 to top the League for a record 11th time.
It’s said that in next second-half season play, U.S. Junior Champion Sean O’Neill will represent Nisse Sandberg’s Angby Club. Angby’s team of Lars Mattsson, Anders Thulin, and Daniel Frejhammer won the April 56-team Flensberg Junior Open by beating a strong German team in the final, 5-4. This summer, Nisse will bring his usual complement of Angby players, including former U.S. Open U-15 Champ Thulin, to our U.S. Open.
Results of the Swedish Junior Championships: U-17 Boys: Jorgen Persson over Peter Greczula, -22, 17, 9, 3. U-17 Girls: Gunnel Bergstrom over Barbro Wiktorsson, 10, -18, 18. U-17 Boys Doubles: Thomas von Scheele/Mats Andersson over Greczula/Kallas, -12, 15, 16, 3. U-17 Girls Doubles: Marie Svensson/Annika Lath over Hansson/Bergstrom, 19, -19, 12. U-15 Boys: Andersson over von Scheele, 20, 14, 21. U-15 Girls: Lena Enochsson over Camilla Kalimen, 13, 22. U-13 Boys: Patrik Torsell over Magnus Pettersson, -16, 14, 19. U-13 Girls: Ann Svensson over Cecilia Nisson, 12, 17.
Sue Butler emphasizes her interest in the Swedish scene with a Profile of Stig Eklof, founder and President of the Hallstahammar Club (SPIN, Oct., 1985):
“Stig, says Sue, “has the secret for running a successful club: promotion, publicity, and a lot of hard work.
A high school principal, math teacher, and author of several math textbooks, Stig is a bundle of energy. His love of table tennis and long-time friendship with former Swedish star and National Coach, the late Hans Alser, prompted exhibitions in Hallstahammar with Hans in 1969. This led to the founding of the Club that same year.
Although Stig insists that his club is just a small one by Swedish standards (55 juniors, 85 men, 25 women) in this town of 8,000, it would be considered successful anywhere in the U.S.
Goran Alvin, a former junior star with two impressive wins over Kjell Johansson while they were both juniors, is the salaried head coach of the club. Goran is an elementary school physical education teacher and some of the other part-time club personnel have school positions.
Club dues are $4.00 per year for individuals and $10 for families In addition, a Swedish Table Tennis membership is $5.00 per year, which includes PINGIS, the Association’s magazine.
The club lists several sources of income: 1. Large tournaments, the main source of Income. 2. Corporate sponsorship. 3. Training camps. 4. City government— pays the club based on the number of junior members. 5. Corporate-team league-play fees (about 20 teams).
The building was given to the club by the government. It is an old theater, has a wood floor, good lighting, and room for five tables. There are locker rooms, plus an upstairs apartment the club can use or rent as it wishes.
Although parents or interested people are paid $.50 per mile for helping transport members to other events, most people donate personal time in supporting club activities and special projects.
Stig’s ingenious/original ideas seem endless. For example:
Sponsor an annual school tournament. He has the local paper as the main sponsor. The paper provides the prizes and also two pages of free publicity complete with pictures of the young players. Each year he has over 300 participants. All these players are non-club members, beginning players. Stig and his coaches look for players with potential and then follow-up with talks with their parents.
Keep local government informed of achievement. Stig’s been so successful at this that the cover of the city’s promotional brochure for trade and tourism features a young table tennis player.
Run the largest money tournament in Sweden ($10,000). Stig invites eight famous players and eight area players—matches the weaker players against the stars for local interest.
Give an Award to the Most Helpful Club Member.
Have tournaments where points are given for placing in the quarter’s or higher in any age division—winner (last year it was a nine-year-old) gets the Golden Racket Award.
Deem someone Leader of the Year—members vote on who’s contributed most to the club.
Award Club Championships to winners of diverse events: Parent/Child Doubles (ranked player not eligible); Wrong Hand matches; Secret Racket competition (Director makes up all rackets out of any materials; you don’t know what you’re getting—maybe plywood with a dish-cloth on the hitting surface).
A fun club—a 16-year success story.”
Not to be outdone by mother Sue, son Jimmy tells us (Timmy’s, May, 1984, 7) he too can talk about Sweden. Here he is describing his “Lucky Thirteenth Birthday Present: My Third Trip to Sweden”:
“It was great to return to Sweden and see many friends again and stay with Eva Persson and her son Fredrik. The country is beautiful and the Swedish people always make me feel right at home. But, of course, Sweden is much more to me than being comfortable.
I love the tough table tennis competition, especially in my age group. Every weekend I battled player after player until sometimes my legs felt like they would fall off. But an Angby player would give me some sugar pills for quick energy, which really seemed to help.
The training was also great and the Angby Club is a super place to practice. I trained with the Intermediate Group, but was promised that when I return next year I’ll train with the Advanced and Elite players. Not only was the daily practice good, but the comradeship before, during, and after practice with kids my own age was something I wish I had at home. My Iowa friends don’t play, and have little interest in, table tennis.
I went to school during the mornings in Sweden, but I didn’t enjoy it very much this time. Fredrik is in sixth grade and I’m in seventh, so I’m used to changing rooms and classes during the day. Swedish law prohibits teachers from striking students, so the teachers yell a lot. Also, teachers don’t feel comfortable using English. It seemed to me like they were afraid they were going to make too many mistakes.
I found the school to be different from U.S. schools in several ways:
More breaks during the day, and 1 and ½ hours for lunch.
School lunches are free, but not good. The kids seem to leave most of it.
Most of the teachers are women and the discipline is about the same as in the U.S.
Monday and Friday school is out at 1:40 p.m.
My daily routine was:
7:15—Jimmy, it’s time for school.
7:30—Cheese sandwich and one egg for breakfast.
8:10—Arrive late to school almost every day [Why?]—Fredrik and I got yelled at by the teacher
4:00—Go to Angby to practice [What did you do during the four hours after lunch?]
8:00—Return from Angby
The tournaments were wonderful. I looked forward to them so much. Several tournaments are held each weekend in different locations and most of them are like our largest national tournaments with several hundred players. They are always very well organized. Usually there are two halls, one for early-round play, and another with spectator stands for featured matches.
When your name is called, you go to the ‘sluss’ area where you sit until your match is up. There is always an umpire at every match. I really felt I got a lot of bad calls, especially lets after the point was over. It was useless to argue.
Tournaments are two days, one day for juniors and the other for adults. A person is only allowed to play two singles and one doubles event per day.
You have to register weeks, sometimes months, before a tournament. There are different Class events, and your eligibility for any one of them is dependent on how you play. As you acquire more points you move up a Class. You get points by placing first to eighth in the Class you’re playing in.
When I first arrived I wasn’t seeded. But after two weeks I was always seeded #1. [And with good reason. Jimmy gives us his March playing record that shows us again and again, wherever he played—Norrtalje, Stockholm, Gaule, Umea—he was the best 13-year-old. He also describes how he rallied to beat the 4th-ranked U-15 player in Sweden.] It didn’t really matter that everyone always rooted for my opponent. I just played harder. I was disappointed, though, that I never did get to play the Swedish #1 U-13 Patrik Torsell….
I can’t wait to return to Sweden and stay longer. I’ll also take a folding suitcase for my prizes. I brought back seven pieces of luggage, but wasn’t charged extra. There are advantages to being an unaccompanied minor.”
Sue now describes (Wiggy’s T.T. News, Nov. 6, 1985) the Angby Club, our young U.S. players’ home-away-from home:
“Angby SK (Sports club) was founded in 1956 by a small group of people headed by Nils-Erik (Nisse) Sandberg. Free use of space in the government-owned and maintained Vallingbyhallen was theirs for the asking.
Angby’s scheduled use of the hall is based on need, as are the other sports’ clubs that share the facilities. The Vallingbyhallen is a large two-story sports facility. The second floor has two large basketball courts while the ground level features an Olympic-size swimming pool, weight room, snack areas, offices, and locker rooms. There is also a large downstairs room with 10 table tennis tables.
Angby is primarily a table tennis club, although they do have badminton and soccer. (Membership breakdown: Soccer 25; Badminton 25; Table Tennis 435.) From a study of the age of the Table Tennis members (U-13: 20; 13-17: 200; 18-75: 215) it’s easy to understand why Sweden has such a strong Junior Program—220 U-18’s in just this one club.
Beginners pay about $16 a year club dues. Competing Juniors pay $38.50 a year if they want Angby to pay for tournament-entry fees.
On tournament weekends (that’s almost every weekend) when traveling outside of Stockholm, but within the country, ranked players pay $6,00 for transportation, room, and breakfast, while unranked players pay about $10.00.
Clubs are allowed to make as much money as they can, but are taxed. To lower the tax bite, many of the wealthier clubs send their best players to international competitions before the end of the fiscal year so they will not have a lot of unused funds.
Angby’s main source of revenue is Bingo, and they also have a variety of investments including the U.S. stock market.
The government subsidizes all clubs based on size. Each club is given a certain amount of money for each table in use for at least one hour per day. This money is paid twice a year.
Nisse Sandberg is president of Angby (a non-salaried position) and through his astute business management, Angby has grown to be the largest and one of the best-funded table tennis clubs in Sweden.
Maud Waller, a full-time employee for 10 years, admits that ‘Nisse’s job is to make money, and mine is to spend it. Only five clubs, perhaps, in all of Sweden have a full-time employee. We are very proud of our accomplishments. To obtain new Junior members, we advertise and go into schools after them. Each year in the fall, about 100 new Juniors start and right now 28 of them are girls. The attrition rate is about 50%.’
Maud said that while the men and boys’ situation in Sweden is very good in table tennis, the women and girls’ is poor.
‘The girls must have fun,’ she said, ‘and they like to play with several girls on a team. They don’t particularly like individual competition. If the pressure gets too great, the girls will quit,’ says Maud, who has been through it all with former U.S. Open and Swedish Junior Champion, daughter Lena (now 23) and daughter Marie, 16.
Maud feels the answer to more success with girls is to have team events. Although popular in the U.S., the team event concept is very new to the Swedes.
Angby beginners train four times a week for two hours. At this point a very important social concept is introduced. The advanced player spends one session per week helping players below his level, one session working with players of the same level, and one session with higher level players. This policy explains the Angby staff of approximately 25 coaches. All coaches are paid at least a token amount per hour and Mikael Frank oversees the program and sets the schedule. He is paid a salary.
Due to the size of the Angby Club, it has been necessary to form several divisions: Angby, Rackstra, Blackeberg, Bromma, etc. This way, many teams and individuals can compete and contribute and the interest level is kept very high.
Before the wrong impression is made from the numbers and success of Angby, it should be noted that only two club teams were sent to the Swedish Open Junior Championships (SOJC) from the 100+ in Stockholm. Most clubs just do not have the money for this venture. Note: The Swedish Table Tennis Association funded a Girl’s and Boy’s National Team, while a few clubs in other parts of Sweden also sent teams.
Competition in club-league play is very fierce. Players are bought, sold, and even traded. A top Swedish male can earn as much as $25,000 per year, and a woman $10,000.
Angby does not believe in bringing in non-Stockholm residents to play for them. They feel it hurts club spirit, is bad for their overall standing and discourages the Juniors from working hard to reach the top levels. This policy has made it difficult for Angby to remain in the First Division league play.
Any observer of the Angby scene, whether during competition, practice, or the interpersonal relationships among the various club members and families, would admit that this organization is a hard act to beat. They are efficient, friendly, organized, and provide many community services. They constantly bring recognition to their city and country. Congratulations, Angby, for a continuing job well done.”
Both Timmy’s (May, 1984, 3;16) and Tom Wintrich’s SPIN (May-June, 1984, Cover+) give considerable coverage to Power Poon’s Apr. 14-15 Louisiana Open. Here’s Timmy’s opening, which offers a bit more orientation than SPIN’s:
“As expected, Power Poon’s $8,000 Louisiana Open (it started in 1976 as a $2,000 Open) drew among its roughly 160 entries the best players in North America. It’s quite clear that in the U.S. the most prestigious tournaments are those that offer the most prize money. Of course in Europe or Asia it amounts to the same thing—amateur or professional, if you want to make a decent living, stay on the National Team or keep your Club job, you’d better aspire to excellence—which means full-time table tennis.
More than one person at this Open, though, suggested to me that those players who work hardest to perfect their game might in the long run be more rewarded if less of the $8,000 offered here had been put into prize money, and more—much more—had been put into publicizing and staging this tournament. As it was, the Baton Rouge media people, though interested beforehand, didn’t show at all for the live action—so of course very few if any outside spectators came to the nearby town of Baker where, thanks to the local mayor, the use of the Municipal Auditorium as a playing site has repeatedly been given to the BRTTC free of charge.
Director Poon and his experienced staff—Charles Hoyt, Mel Douglas, Tom and Melinda Baudry [Tom started the prize money that after nine years has amounted to $35,400 total], Ben Chiu, John Wen, Jim Kemp, Glen Singletary, ex-Quebecker Ralph Spratt, Ron Hoff, and Poon’s sons Edward and Alex and daughter Anna—not only did a fine job of getting all the 19-event matches played, but in some cases even hosted a number of the prize-winning participants in their homes.
Still, the argument goes, what did such a tournament with its cramped courts, punishing concrete floor, and late Sunday final, among more Burger King remains than spectators, really do for the Sport? Suppose such a thing were shown on TV, who, playing in what kind of court this particular night, would think himself a star?
Surely the answer to such a question must in part be speculative: that at this moment in U.S. table tennis we know pretty much only the short run—know that since 1970 there’s been a push for and a considerable improvement in terms of prize money and international competition for our better players. [Tom Wintrich tells us that 22 players here were over 2200, 30 over 2000.] How others working in the Sport in the U.S. can, in the long run, bring spectators to professionally-staged matches is a question the much-desired answer to has not yet (may never be?) found. Meanwhile, one’s one-and-only life goes on, and because a player like Eric Boggan or Danny Seemiller is able to make a decent living, the USTTA is not unheard of in the anonymous ping-pong basements of the U.S. (if there are ping-pong basements any more) or even in at least some classy arenas of the world.
The players who dominated the Louisiana Open—Eric Boggan, Zoran ‘Zoki’ Kosanovic, and Danny Seemiller—have earned their keep over the years…not through the wait-and-see compromise of some talent-destroying non-table tennis job, but with the benefit of such tournaments as Power encourages that help them to survive. They and those who support excellence have shown the most conviction, made the most progress, in the last 15 years of U.S. table tennis.
Also subject to debate is the Louisiana Open’s unique prize money structure. In no single event can a player win more than $600. Why? Because that’s the rough equivalent of what the ITTF whimsically permits an ‘amateur’ to receive in the way of ‘Open’ prize money. There are those who don’t think such a restriction can be good for the image of the Sport, especially in the U.S. where money talks. They argue for a no longer Louisiana ‘Open’ but an All-Americas ‘Closed’ or a Western Hemisphere ‘Invitational’ (since in a ‘Closed’ or an ‘Invitational’ there’s no ceiling on the prize money) or just a plain break away from the ITTF in this matter. I mean, in this day and age of glamour sports, a maximum $600 first prize to the best player in the country is not gonna bring throngs of wide-eyed U.S. juniors encouraged by their parents into the Game or keep them there as they mature.
Director Poon recognizes this restrictive problem and has tried to solve it somewhat by creating a second ‘Elite’ event, complementary to the ‘Open,’ that’s limited to the top 32-rated players. This field plays 2/3-game matches as opposed to the Open’s advanced-round 3/5-game matches for a first prize of $400. Perhaps the best player will win both events and thus walk off with the $1,000 Power wanted to give his Open winner in the first place. Surely there’s something absurd about an ITTF rule that needs such circumvention.
As it happens, the same four players competing straight through the single elimination matches in the Elite—Eric, Zoki, Danny, and visiting Chinese star Di Xi (pronounced D She)—were also the same four players advancing to the final round-robin matches in the Open.
The Open, the Elite (the 32nd player here just getting into the draw was rated 1951), the AA’s (for players not seeded in the Top 8), the (Under 2300) A’s (Phooey, Lim Ming Chui, you’re 2302), and the (Under 2100) B’s gave the 2090 player the unusual opportunity of playing in five singles events. For a price of course—but over 50 players paid $20 just to enter the Open event alone.”
Early Open Matches
Timmy’s continues with...“nothing’s ever perfect—least of all for aficionados. Was it a good thing to be seeded 8th in the Open? This meant, did it, with the help of your seeding, you were to play only one tough eighth’s match and if you won that (as you were ‘supposed’ to), you were assured of $200? Perry Schwartzberg (2451), having just returned from Cuba, where he won some Gold, went out to play, after a first-round bye, his 16th’s round-of-32 match and came up against 15th ‘seed’ Brandon Olson (2370), who’d likewise received a first-round bye but no seeding or placing. Perry lost -20, -20, -18—didn’t even get a humiliating $25 for reaching the Top 16.
Better you were 9th ‘seed’ Ricky Seemiller? To play, in the AA’s, first, Joe Ogilvie and then Mitch Rothfleisch for $12.50 a match. Of course in the Elite event too how much difference to the Computer did it make who you were? Perry (2451) and Ricky (2442) met in the round of 32! Poor Berg—he lost 13, 10. Not exactly a long weekend of play, huh? Talk about a fixed draw: #8 vs. #9 in the first round?
But so far so good for Ricky. ‘I always win,’ he told me, ‘unless I have to play a style I don’t like.’ Later, in the semi’s of the AA’s, when he was up 1-0 but down 17-10 in the second to Quang Bui (‘Bui’s threatening against a good player,’ somebody said—‘but often just not steady or flexible enough’), Ricky tried a service variation ‘to get ready for the third game.’ His ‘inside-out one,’ he called it. That got him to 17-13. Now, he thought, ‘If I could just get five straight on Quang’s serve.’…And, lo and behold--Quang’s southpaw squat-serve didn’t bother him—and it was soon 17-all. ‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ Ricky said to himself. ‘I just got four straight—don’t screw up now.’ And when it was Ricky’s turn to serve at the end, he continued this dialogue with self. ‘Lefties can’t flip sidespin short serves—the spin’s going away from them.’ And then he thought, ‘Lefties hate squat serves too.’ So, style-wise, what was he worried about? Nothing. So, 21-18 Ricky. You had only privately to talk things over with yourself.
In the round of 16 in the Open, though, four-time U.S. World Team member Ricky, on seeing his opponent was Eric Boggan, had a few things to say out loud. ‘Number One plays Number Nine—is that fair? Is it just that I get the worst player style-wise for me to play in the whole tournament? And then he added, ‘I’m a pro. The Computer tells ME who to play?’ (Ironically, Eric’s round-of-32 opponent had taken his long trip to Louisiana only on the condition that Poon, who was friendly with the Computer, allow him to play Eric while his buddy taped their match.)
So, yeah, stylishly or not, Ricky won only $25 not the $200 given automatically to those who reached the last 8. And, yeah he lost his AA final to Canadian Horatio ‘Hory’ Pintea—but he did pick up $200 for being runner-up. And, yeah, he and a disturbed Danny were beaten in a deuce-in-the- third tournament’s-end Men’s Doubles final by Eric Boggan and Rey Domingo, so he got only $50 for that. All told: $275—not at all what he, as a pro, envisioned.
There were a few other striking round-of-32 results in the Open.
Perhaps the most startling was Lekan Fenuyi’s easy 6, 15 win over Insook Bhushan. Lekan, who’d just recently returned from a short trip to his native Nigeria, where he’d been seeing relatives, selling a little table tennis equipment, and practicing with Skypower USOTC Team Champion members Titus Omotara and Francis Sule, just looped at will through our (2412) perennial U.S. Women’s Champ.
U.S. Junior Champion Sean O’Neill, a Childe at the Castle Perilous, barely overcame Canadian Ottowa-Training-Centre star Bao Nguyen, -16, 20, 16. Sean had been blocking the emotional Bao’s slow loops off the table—but when in a change of strategy he began topspinning the ball off the bounce, Bao, who has good technique but sometimes lacks judgment, got a little shook. ‘If you can keep your serve return short against Bao he’s in trouble,’ Sean was telling me later. ‘All he wants to do is serve and follow.’ Maybe that’s what Canadian #17 Stephane Charbonneau thought too as he went on to upset Bao, the Canadian #7, in the AA’s.
And U.S. Under 15 and 13 Champ Jimmy Butler prevailed, -20, 10, 17, over Pandit Dean, A runner-up to Jerry Thrasher. Pandit, who had $150-worth of wins over Charbonneau and many-time Canadian Women’s Champ Domonkos, had fellow Atlanta player/coaches Coleman and Cooper in his corner, but was perhaps pressing too much against Jimmy’s 13-year-old consistency and so not always coming over the ball well enough.
No disgrace losing to young Butler though, for in the Elite he’d initially given (2425) Bui plenty of (-20, 11, -6) heat. Jimmy’s just gotten back from playing in three tournaments in Sweden where he’d enjoyed staying with the Fred Persson family (though, oh, did he miss Iowa TV). ‘I have a stronger counter from both sides now,’ he was telling me—can flat hit better. I didn’t get any coaching over there this time—but I did get good competition in the Junior tournaments, and tournaments help me to improve more than anything else’ (which is what Eric Boggan’s also always said). And (2210) Jimmy’s Appelgren-like temperament? Did that All-American-improve along with his strength, endurance, and quickness? Some time before Jimmy went out to play Pandit, Mrs. B. made a pact with him: $10 she’d give him if he didn’t make a negative remark this tournament. But perhaps you noticed Jimmy lost that first game to Dean, 22-20. ‘Was Eric like Jimmy?’ Sue asked me. ‘When he was younger, did he get angry?’
Insook, despite her failure with Fenuyi, did win the Women’s Singles—over recent Canadian Top 12 winner Domonkos in the final. Earlier, Mariann, who’s finally about to get her degree from Carleton University in Ottowa in Kinanthropology (formerly, as you may remember, Kinentropology), had to do a little abrupt motion study against Pigool Kulcharnpises (a.k.a. ‘Peggy K’) and then ‘Elitist’ Takako Trenholme who’d (17, -22, -14) almost upset Mariann in the semi’s. (Would that you could have been privy to the psychological/physiological thoughts about controlled pattern vs. unsystematic play going through Mariann’s ‘I study a lot’ head in that second game, eh?)
Actually Domonkos had been preparing for the mid-May Canadian National Championships by improving her game not against block-block-block but chop-chop-chop. Di Xi, Assistant to Canadian TTA Coach Su, had been working with her—was it for weeks now? Anyway, his 8-month stay has been extended to a year.
In her earlier 2/3-game matches, Insook was in danger of being forced into the third only in her first (deuce) game with Sheila O’Dougherty, Chair of the new USTTA Athletes Advisory Committee. Perhaps it was the strain of picking representative members of the Committee, or the pressure she’d felt in the 23-21-in-the-third match she’d barely won over Peggy K in the B’s, but the redoubtable O’Dougherty was already pre-party hurtin’.
Who better to fix her up though than Kenny Owens with his ‘Trigger-Point Therapy.’
‘As a person injures a muscle,’ Kenny told Sheila on beginning his finger manipulations, ‘other muscles will tense up and stay tight.’
‘Well,’ said Sheila, ‘I’ve had shoulder problems like you wouldn’t believe.’
‘I can believe it,’ said Kenny. ‘If there’s no pain, the muscles learn to stay tight—so tight that they’ll cause pain in the joint and inflame the bursa.’ As he talks, and I, Tim, listen, he continues to finger her muscles, releases them so there’s no joint pain.
‘I can feel her muscles relaxing under my fingers like melting ice,’ Kenny said.
Nevertheless, Sheila and Ricky couldn’t get by Domonkos and Pintea in the semi’s of the Mixed, nor—surprise—could U.S. Champs Insook and Danny. Up 20-19 in the third, Mariann calmly looped in a down-the-line winner.
Insook, showing her usual marvelous footwork, but often chopping the ball very high and uncharacteristically missing some backhand kills, played a strong but losing match against Canadian International Pintea in the quarter’s of the AA’s. Thanks to a season of 2/3-game Swedish League play, Hory was experienced enough to come back after losing the first game to Insook and so went on to take the $300 first prize—beating both Brandon Olson (Fenuyi exterminator), who had trouble returning serves, and Ricky Seemiller, who couldn’t keep Hory from looping through him.”
I’ll continue with the Open play momentarily, but first I want to give you the winners of the events I don’t cover elsewhere: B’s: Saubano Adio, deuce in the 4th, over Tunde Jacobs, who’d advanced over Tim Boggan, 18 in the 4th. B Doubles: Roland Schilhab/Sarka Dura over Warren McNeil/Mike Wetzel. C’s: Randy Levy over Grady Gordon. D’s: Power Poon over Joe Ogilvie. E’s: Chew Hwee over Francine Larente. Novice: Hwee over Danny Buren. Senior’s: T. Boggan over Don Weems. U-17’s: Jimmy Butler over Bud Caughman, -20, 12, 21, then over Rocky Cheng. U-13: Yui-man Kwan over Duy Vo.
In the 8th’s of the Open, Pintea continued playing well [he’d go home with $525]—downing Pan Am Champ Masters (20, 22, 17) when Brian, no matter what contortions he threatened, couldn’t intimidate Destiny into awarding him at least one of those match-turning games.
Danny Seemiller, who’d had a bit of a 2/3-game problem with Canadian #5 Alain Bourbonnais at the USOTC’s, again (15, -20, 19, 10) felt for a moment the force of the excitable Quebecker. At 19-all in the swing-game third, Bourbonnais, after a long exchange, made an error, then, down 20-19, had a ball to loop but caught it on the edge of his racket. In the AA’s, Alain lost to Jerry Thrasher whose big backhand loop and 19-in-the-3rd edge made all the difference.
Fenuyi beat O’Neill in straight games, but Sean obviously learned a few things from this match, for he was to make a strong up-1-0-and-at-deuce-in the-second showing against Lekan in the Elite. ‘I had a good chance,’ said Sean. ‘Down 20-17 in the second, I whipped three balls through him, then at deuce I missed a set-up.’
And what had Sean seen this second time playing Lekan? ‘Fenuyi has something of a backward stance. Since he steps off the wrong foot, when he loops he doesn’t get any spring out of his legs (though his ball’s still got a lot of good sidespin on it). This forces forehand vulnerability which I try to exploit. All Fenuyi’s loops from the forehand side are the same, and since his racket is closed all the time (I see now why I was blocking so many balls off the table), he needs so much energy just to get the ball over the net. But of course if you’re working on somebody’s weakness, you can’t just hit ball after ball there—you gotta be a little two-there, one- here subtle.’
O’Neill, who’s got this nice backhand-counter from the heart, also lost a close match to Olson in the Under 21’s. Down 20-19 in the first, Sean served long, figuring Brandon wouldn’t attack, and though he was right, he missed the follow. So, o.k., what if Sean’s rating has risen, has fallen, has just recently climbed to 2500, has fallen—perhaps now he’ll consciously or unconsciously be less feverish about such points and play the better for it.
[Wintrich quoted Schwartzberg, still in something of a funk over his disappointing draws, as saying, “The only thing you can count on this tournament is Brandon’s backhand. And, sure enough, ] Olson, opening with backhand loops (if you block he continues backhands), downed Bui in the Open in a close (19, 20, -15, 16) match—but Quang, as if inspired by those buxomy-breath’d 15-going-on-25-year-olds he’d been Cubanating with from time to time in his mind’s eye, scored a turnabout win over Brandon that got him to the final of the Under 21’s. [Good as Brandon’s backhand is, Coach Li Ai thinks players get used to anticipating his backhand block, so it would be to Brandon’s advantage if, when a ball comes up his middle, he didn’t always block it back but instead stepped around and forehand attacked it.] Quang’s opponent, Eric Boggan, had been down 10-7 in the deciding third to Bao Nguyen, but then had rallied. Up 17-15, Eric, after having just failed to return Bao’s sliced serve, now flipped a world-class return of that same serve…and moved on. For his 21-16 finishing point, he gave the Vietnamese-Canadian such an unexpectedly fast, flushed-out serve that Bao could only lunge even to get his racket on the ball.
Earlier, in this 21entry event, the Computer had gone War-Games crazy again, and had forced a first-round match in which Bui (2425) had defeated Pintea (2427) in three, thus avenging his loss to him in a recent British Columbia tournament. The $100-for-first fight between Eric and Quang was uninspiring until the third- game end when Quang, smacking in his usual go-for-it shots, had match point—only to see Eric just nick the edge with his return. Then he had match-point on Boggan again—only to lose 24-22.
In the only routine quarter’s match, Olson, leading Eric Boggan 14-11 in the first, dropped 10 in a row and thereafter understandably lost interest.
Chinese visitor to Canada, Di Xi, who at 22 is reputedly the fourth-or-fifth-best chopper in China (yes, he plays shakehands), lost the first to Rey Domingo, the Handicap winner (spot was 16 to 21) over Alberto Prieto, destined a quarter-of-a-century later to be Chair of the USATT Hardbat Committee. Then, having trouble with Rey’s serves, Di was down 11-4 in the second, at which point the Chinese suddenly began attacking—and didn’t stop until he’d beaten Rey in four. Said one observer, ‘This guy’s a chopper? Do you realize how great a player you have to be just to get this guy to chop?’
Earlier, Domingo [he won $500 total] had knocked out Scott Butler (Class A Doubles winner with Bob McKinney over the Poon brothers). Under the tutelage of Coach Li Henan—the name (Huh-NAN) means ‘Honey,’ though Chinese couples, I hear, don’t use terms of endearment—Scott was changing his stroke and hoping to become an all-out looper. Did Scott explain all this to the pre-tournament TV interviewer? Did brother Jimmy? Too bad there weren’t any weekend cameras to catch young Eric Owens on the run or, m’god, Homer Brown’s three-year-old Adam warming up—that is, bringing his racket up to lollipop lip-level, then swatting back ball-after-ball to his vocally encouraging and VERY patient daddy.
Kosanovic, who along the way had knocked out Saubano Adio, lost the first game to Pintea, who has this bad habit of mis-serving and who plays forehands out of a backhand-position, then jerks his arm up in a way that needs to be smoothly, not to say soothingly, corrected (especially if Hory isn’t in the mood to listen to such criticism). But then Zoki, after winning the second and third games easily and up 20-17 triple-match-point in the fourth, appeared to have victory in hand. However, he served carelessly, erred again, and at 20-19 allowed Pintea to get into position to loop a ball—which as it happened Hory rushed and so failed to score.
Danny Seemiller’s (18, 19, -16, -13, 8) match with Fenuyi started off with Danny looping and mixing in the anti, applying just enough pressure to keep control of things. But gradually Lekan, as if realizing that the looper had an extra advantage, seeing as how the ball was skidding quite a bit on the not-always-clean tables, began attacking more, began spinning back Danny’s loops. ‘I scored points against Seemiller,’ he was to say later, ‘by stopping him from scoring points against me. I kept moving him so he couldn’t get in that big loop.’ In the fifth, however, Danny got off to a quick start and Lekan was left behind.
In the one Elite semi’s, Eric had no problem with an almost disinterested Kosanovic. Already Zoki was setting his sights on the U.S. Open, had gotten up early to run five miles—something he wouldn’t ordinarily have done on a tournament morning—and seemed in general satisfied just to have gotten this far in the event. Of course he wasn’t what you would call happy—since his contract as Ontario Provincial Coach had not been renewed and for the moment he was out of a job.
In the other Elite semi’s, Danny was up against Di Xi, the ‘unknown’ chopper whose different but dark-colored sides looked too much alike. But regardless of Mal Anderson’s recent ruling, neither Danny nor later Eric or Zoki protested. The question they were more interested in was everybody’s question, ‘Just how good IS this Chinese?’ Good enough to take a game from Danny, but not good enough to beat him apparently. Liang Geliang he was not.
The rumors went round after Di’s defeat that he was the Chinese Women’s Team’s hitting partner, that he was not as good as World Women’s Champ Can Yanhua, that he never hit a ball in China, that a year or so ago in a tournament he’d beaten Guo Yuehua, and that at 22 he was both too old and not good enough, so that he was going to quit table tennis and go to college.
Was it true that in the Open he wouldn’t be a factor? Nor would Kosanovic? Not only was the Elite final between Eric and Danny, but the final of the Open would be too? And as if to confirm this, Eric and Danny announced they would play only one match—winner take all: $1,000 as opposed to $650.
Against Kosanovic, whom he’d beaten 14, 12 in the Elite, Boggan got off to a bad start, was down 9-1…12-3…smack, smack—Eric was hitting balls chaotically…finished 21-5 by serving into the net.
Then beat Zoki at 6.
Then again got off to a slow start and was down 10-5…and was again chaotically giving up the game. Which angered me. I yelled out something—it might even have been a cheer when he got his 6th point. In acknowledgment, Eric grimly served off…14-6…17-6…finished 21-8 by again serving off.
Nice match, eh? Nicer than the few words Eric spoke to me at the break (‘When he was younger, did he get angry?’)
In the 4th, Eric was up 14-6, and somebody was saying, ‘See how well Eric’s doing? The whole key to anti is to use it when your opponent least expects it.’ Someone retrieved the out-of-court ball and Eric playfully caught it in his mouth…21-9 Boggan.
In the fifth, Kosanovic seemed to be moving one foot instead of two, and Eric was up 7-0. Now some bearded spectator, Coors beer in hand (no, silly, not me), was getting so fun-rowdy that Umpire Ralph Spratt stopped the match and said, ‘Why don’t you come to my party tonight?’ No, I was just kidding, Ralph didn’t say that. He said, ‘SHUT UP OR GO OUT THE DOOR!’
‘YEAH!’ said the bearded one after Eric won the next point and was now clearly going to win the match.
Danny, meanwhile, had beaten the Chinese chopper in straight games.
Poor Di. It turns out that in the absence of coach Su’s wife to cook for him, he’s had nothing he could eat all weekend. Creole dishes? Ugh. Steak? Italian? Indian? Chinese?...Some tea and toast perhaps? No, the toast is buttered…How about half a candy bar…for energy? O.k., he’ll try it.
So, after 1-2-3 encounters—Guo, Cai, Jiang—could Eric have any problem with this weak Chinese?
Yup. Boggan’s forehand was too soft. ‘Eric uses too much of a backhand grip when he hits his forehand’—that was one view. Said someone else, ‘There’s nothing wrong with Eric’s forehand—he just has a motivational problem.’ Down 17-16, Boggan served off, didn’t earn another point this game.
On into the second, Eric continued unvaryingly his 60%-efficient topspin play—was not doing anything to score winners. Di, meanwhile, showed glimpses of his expertise. When he picked a ball to hit, he often passed Eric with it. Said one observer, ‘Eric has to face the realization that if he can’t get through this Chinese he makes his own commentary on his progress in the game.’ Said another, ‘Eric has absolutely no strategy. It’s as if it were humiliating to him to have any game plan at all.’ Suddenly the Chinese, as if from out his navel, uncoiled the most creative shot of the tournament—a sidespin Frisbee, as it were, that sailed around the net and floated onto the back edge catching Eric and everyone else by surprise. Up went a roar from the crowd—and soon Boggan had lost this game at 11.
This was the Chinese Danny had beaten five games out of six?
Into the third, Eric played in the same unvarying way—until at 13-12 he decided to play his first tactical point of the match; for the first time he dropped, he placed a ball. He had decided to try to win. And though Di snapped a surprise backhand in to draw to 17-18, Eric ran the game out. And to an ever-growing YEAH! from that calmed-down rowdy now in the stands, he went on to take the fourth and fifth games at 15 and 11. At match’s end, Eric turned and raised a fist to the man with the beer in his beard.
Seemiller, meantime, had had a disastrous match-turning second game with Kosanovic. After losing the first at 16, Danny was up 19-13 in the second when Di, playing Eric on the adjacent table, had excited the crowd with that sidespin-hook shot. This eruption, Danny said later, broke his concentration—and, incredibly, he’d lost 8 points in a row to Zoki. After that—and doubtless the 2200-mile drive from California before the tournament had taken some of his strength (earlier he’d been saying if he coached three hours he couldn’t practice that day; or if he practiced he couldn’t coach that day)—he just succumbed to weariness and self-disgust, and literally gave up the third game and the match.
So how did the players stand going into the last matches? Well, it all became clearer after Kosanovic beat Di three straight. ‘No,’ said Zoki, ‘his Friendship racket didn’t bother me, and only once did his arm cover his serve, but it didn’t matter anyway since he always gave me the same serve.’ If Eric beat Danny, he would of course be undefeated and win the tournament. But if Danny beat Eric, Seemiller, Boggan, and Kosanovic would all be tied with 1-1 records and the won and lost games between them would decide the order of finish. Zoki’s game-record was a perfect 5-3. Eric’s, if he lost, at best would be 5-5, and Danny’s, if he won, at best would be 3-3. Which means that Danny was playing a final that, even if he won, wouldn’t allow him to come first in the tournament. Either Boggan or Kosanovic had to win—and if Eric took even a game, Danny was locked into third.
However, Danny had other incentives to win this match against Eric. He wanted to maintain his professional pride, keep strong psychically against Eric, and, what the hell, pocket the $200 difference in the Elite prize money.
Again Boggan was slow to start—was down 7-1. But then he pulled to 11-12 and traded off points until Danny won it, 22-20.
Eric, somebody said, ‘was a position player—not a shot-maker.’ Yeah, somebody else said, ‘but wasn’t Eric’s backhand flick into Danny’s backhand a very effective shot?’
Second game to Boggan at 16.
At 4-all in the third, Danny yelled, ‘You can’t chop the ball on the table!’ But then…21-13 Danny.
‘Eric’s playing Danny’s backhand side instead of his forehand side,’ said the guy next to me.
In the fourth, Eric changed his tactics, came right at Danny—was up 5-2 (YEAH!)…17-11 (YEAH!)…20-15. Here Seemiller started what might have been another haunting rally. (In the recent No Foolin’ Around tourney in California, against former National Champion Attila Malek, Danny was up 2-0, down 20-14 in the fifth—and won.) But down 20-18, he failed to return serve.
On into the fifth (YEAH!) and now Boggan steadily built up a lead…9-5…14-8…21-14. Danny looked more and more tired, Eric more and more fit.
I thought of the unprinted article I’d prepared for Timmy’s from excerpts of Eric’s ’84 letters home—how week after week, two sessions a day he’d trained, giving 100%, hoping for a perfect Bundesliga session. With an aim like that, it was understandable that, though he was far from perfect, he could yet come from behind to win all four titles available to him.”
As Tom Wintrich wrote, “Eric, in winning the 18 matches he did here, gained enough rating points to become the first American to break the 2700-rating level.”