(PHOTO #1) The ball, the racket, the player—somethin’s gonna fly. Talk about flamboyance, talk about a player who might be just a little wild, who IS this guy? Why, our next inductee of course (PHOTO #2)—Ray Guillen, a..k.a. “character”/actor “Ray Hollywood.” He’d rehearsed and sharpened his table tennis act at Milla Boczar’s Club in Hollywood, California. In fact, (PHOTO #3) with his fun-loving, quirky arch-rival Paul Raphel, they might be said to have put on over the years, at one USTTA theater or another, a double bill.
At the Mar., 1971 Hollywood Open, Ray, who’d told a reporter he “used to practice eight hours a day with a sandpaper racket,” won a gutsy -18, -19, 23, 15, 19 return engagement over Paul. One observer said Guillen didn’t have Raphel’s graceful, power-driven forehand or classy chop, but he could make “double-wing returns from near or far,” was tenacious, had an “unflappable can-do attitude,” and a “huge heart.”
Six months later, at the CNE Toronto Fairgrounds, (PHOTO #4) Ray, were it possible, would have enjoyed leisurely watching his own U-17 performance. Though often shaking his head on court and looking forebodingly pessimistic as he mumbled aloud lines like, “Oh, I’m never gonna win this one,” he rallied against one opponent after another—countering a miraculous forehand back from the barriers at match point down to eventually oust Long Island’s John McGraw; prevailing -8, 20, 20 over Florida’s John Quick; and finally -16, 20, 18 coming-from-behind again to take the title from about-to-be U.S. Open Junior Champion, Toronto’s Paul Klevinas.
Since Ray had said ambitiously, “If I can’t go to the big tournaments there’s no use playing,” it was no surprise that in 1972 he went East with high hopes of winning U.S. Open titles. Once there, he told a reporter, “This tournament will determine whether I’ll continue to play. If I win, I’ll be the U.S. Junior Champ.” Well, he didn’t win—was beaten in the semi’s by one, Daniel Seemiller, who didn’t win either. A bad loss, Guillen must have thought. But he wasn’t going to quit—not after bringing home two National titles. With Eric Thom he won the U-17 Doubles, and (PHOTO #5) with Judy Bochenski the Junior Mixed Doubles from Mike Veillette/Bev Hess.
Back in California, he’d continue to play locally against such West Coast stars as (PHOTO #6) two-time U.S. Open finalist and Ray’s early mentor Jack Howard, and former Korean International Joong Gil Park. Eventually he’d take over the Hollywood Club from Milla.
At the 1975 Houston Open, Ray had a good win over Yugoslavia’s Miran Savnik, the former European Junior Champion. In trying out for the ‘75 U.S. World Team, Ray continued to play what some people called mind games. He seemed to delight in trying to psych out his opponents. Leading one of his rivals 16-4 one game, Ray abruptly asked him, “Is your watch an Omega?” This was a mild form of taunting trash talk—common today but first introduced in the 1960’s by the colorful wrestler “Gorgeous George” and the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali who, to the fans’ delight, in a break with traditional sportsmanship, had hovered screamingly over a decked-out Sonny Liston. Check out (PHOTO #7) this apropos photo of Ray, robed as if he himself is gorgeous in a ring—with his bat as a publicity mike.
At these Team Tryouts, Guillen’s ahead of Ricky Seemiller 10-4 in the deciding 3rd and saying aloud, “I wish I could call my mother and tell her how I’m doing.” (PHOTO #8) But after being up quadruple match point and uncharacteristically blowing this match by failing to return three of Ricky’s squat serves, he may be more than a little distracted himself.
But only for a while. He wasn’t gonna stop his stand-up comedy, his wry routines, his disturbing way of getting the audience’s attention and psyching himself up. In the mid-‘70’s Guillen wins quite a few tournaments—one of the most important being the 1975 Pacific Coast Championship. There, Mary McIlwain tells us, “cool-looking” Ray, encouraged by his parents, Ray, Sr. and Ruth, and brothers Ricky and Ruben, defeated Raphel by showing “excellent concentration, superb blocking, and beautifully picked kill shots.”
Because foreign players were favored to win the1976 U.S. Open Singles, the organizers offered a U.S. Closed event. (PHOTO #9) This was won by Guillen—over Dennis Barish, 19 in the 4th. Ray might have gotten a better prize, though (PHOTO #10), for being a winning member of the U.S. Team at the ’76 CNE’s. I’m sure he has that clock to this day.
(PHOTO #11) At the ’77 Birmingham, England World’s, our Men’s Team, having come so close in Sarajevo and Calcutta to advancing to the Championship Division, were intent on breaking through this time—and had great entourage support. Ray’s contributions were key, for in tie after tie he won at least one match. Thus in our closest ties we (PHOTO #12) defeated Greece 5-4 (here Ray beats (Christo-due-LOT-ohs) Christodoulatos), Belgium 5-4, and finally, in a thrilling 5-4 burst of excitement, Italy This from 4-2 down, with Danny behind 1-0 and 6-2 in the 2nd, Ray persevering to win the stay-alive 8th match, and (PHOTO #13) Ricky delivering the clincher. (PHOTO #14) Go, USA!.
At Bobby Gusikoff’s ‘77 U.S. Open, German International (Yo-kin) Jochen Leiss and our D-J Lee, while playing their 5-game Men’s Singles semi’s on a barriered-off feature court, complained of the distracting showmanship going on next to them. But what they may really have objected to was that the crowd was finding Ray and the legendary Marty Reisman’s Hardbat semi’s more appealing, more dramatic than their own. (PHOTO #15) Marty has to try to live up to the romanticized image all his fans still have of him, and Ray has to prove (PHOTO #15-A) that he has the guts and the wiles not to be intimidated by Marty’s deceptively casual beret, his long-sleeved sleek black outfit, his psychological tricks—occasionally hitting an exhibition shot, behind his back, between his legs, or talking down to Ray, or (PHOTO #16), just the opposite, playing the foil to him.
But just as Guillen had not been intimidated in deciding matches at Birmingham, so in the end-game 5th here he was not intimidated by this aging 47-year-old man/god. Ray, though he was still playing other matches with his inverted rubber racket, knew just what he was doing when he focused on his hardbat “touch” defense and allowed Marty to roll and drop him.
Also at this Open (PHOTO #17) there was a great Doubles final. Unhappily for Guillen and Danny Seemiller, though, (PHOTO #18) they lost to Leiss and Peter Stellwag, after the Germans got an edge ball at deuce in the 5th.
(PHOTO #19) But so what—there’s always another trophy-receiving moment of glory for Ray. In 1978 he won the National Intercollegiate Championship.
In 1979, there was an unusual happening at the California State Championships. Guillen broke his racket in a fit of pique. Not surprisingly Ray was in the final—but who was his opponent? (PHOTO #20) His brother Ricky! Actually, it was Ricky Guillen who’d broken his racket—his one and only. And so had been forced to borrow another from a spectator. But then, still juiced, he managed to take the match into the 5th before losing.
At the 1979 U.S. Closed, Ray lost 27-25-in-the-5th in the quarter’s to Dell Sweeris, and was angry that the match had been stopped and he’d been reprimanded by the umpire for something he’d said. He was still steaming when he wasn’t going to be allowed to play in the U.S. Team Squad Trials because he didn’t have enough participation points. However, the powers relented—and Ray came 2nd with a 10-1 record. This allowed him at the 1980 U.S. Open to be part of the winning U.S. Team that defeated Sweden and South Korea. Also (PHOTO #21) it was at this Open that Ray and Zoki Kosanovic lost a killer 25-23-in-the-5th Doubles final (PHOTO #22) to the Seemiller brothers.
In Aug., 1980 Ray was a member (PHOTO #23) of the U.S. Team Captained by Dave Sakai that played Matches in South Korea and Taiwan. A broadening experience.
But Ray wasn’t about to change his world. He wanted to be on stage, ad-libbing, sometimes playing the rascally villain.
At the 1981 U.S. Closed, his show, so to speak, was finally closed. Against Howie Grossman, Ray ran afoul of the Tournament Referee. First it was his violation of the USTTA dress code—he was wearing an illegal shirt (though one not nearly as bad as the one the guy unbothered on an adjacent table was wearing). Forced to change, he complained loudly, boisterously. Later, on losing a point, he “dropped his racket on the table, and kicked, though not viciously, the left corner of the table, then raised the leg off the floor.” When in a few moments he lost another point, he “became very loud and cursed [a point]” Though neither the actual umpire of the match nor Grossman complained, the Referee, unasked for, came into the court, told Ray he was being a poor sport, and that “any further displays would result in his being defaulted.” Ray’s reply was, “You might as well default me now! I’m a very emotional player.”
The Referee was then joined by another umpire and a rules-minded USTTA Executive Committeeman. The three watched and listened as Ray on into the 4thand 5th games was being somewhat loud. Then, when late in the 5th game, after rushing in only to miss the point-winner, Ray tossed his racket on the table and raised his end of the table then set it down gently, the Referee decided now was the time to act—he defaulted Ray at 19-all in the 5th.
Ray was disgusted—he vowed to end his career. Grossman himself was stunned and disappointed—“Why did they stop it?” he cried. “Why did they stop it?” He’d been defending beautifully and pick-hitting in winners. He was close to having scored a startling upset. Of course Guillen’s outbursts no doubt didn’t sit well with players on nearby tables, but there was no denying a large audience had formed round what was now the tournament’s center court and everyone was enjoying the climactic action.
Pro and con points of view as to the Referee’s actions were discussed in the USTTA magazine. But perhaps Topics columnist Don Gunn had the last word. He offered this quote from a book called Science and Sport: “It is easy to accept that champions are very different from other human beings in their sporting performance. Why should it be so difficult to accept that they are also different in other ways…?” (A soccer coach, referring to one of the world’s best players, said, “If he wasn’t a difficult character, he wouldn’t be a good player.”)
(PHOTO #24) So here’s that good player, that emotional player, many of us remember. Different he undoubtedly was, and is, but maybe he’s not such a difficult character to accept after all. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome our newest inductee, a U.S. Champion and one of our Sport’s all-time most colorful players, Ray Guillen.