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History of U.S. Table Tennis Vol. II:1940-1952 "The War Years: (Some USTTA Victories, But The 'Wounded Soldier Needs a Blood Transfusion')" By Tim Boggan USATT Historian


1949: U.S. Team’s Warm-Up Play In Sweden. 1949: Swaythling Cup Matches. 1949: U.S. Women Win Corbillon Cup. 1949: World Singles/Doubles Play: U.S. Competes Well. 1949: Reisman, McLean Win English Open. 1949: Miles/Reisman/Cartland Face Disciplinary Action.

As it would turn out, both Schiff (U.S. #3) and Nash (U.S. # 6) had the opportunity to join Miles and Reisman as part of the Men’s Team to the Stockholm World’s, but both begged off the two-month trip on account of "work." The third man on the Team was therefore Cartland (U.S. # 4) who, whether he’d come to St. Louis for the Intercities or not, was in line from the East Tryouts and from the challenging matches he’d played against Miles and Reisman. Also as it would turn out, Chotras declined to make the overseas trip because she had a 6-month-old daughter, Louise, to take care of. That left the way open for Tybie Thall, who’d defeated Shahian in St. Louis, and was of course the Defending World Mixed Doubles Champion with Miles.

The players were booked to leave Jan. 8 on the Queen Mary. But an accident would delay the liner from sailing for four days—which meant that the Team had to cancel a scheduled U.S. vs. England Match at Maidstone on Jan. 14. Five members of the American contingent decided to sail on the S.S. Stockholm leaving for Gothenburg, Sweden Jan. 7 in order to connect with their scheduled exhibitions there. For some reason Miles and Cartland would wait and take the Queen Mary on the 12th, then fly from London to Gothenburg to join the others.

In a January 24, 1949 "Letter to members of U.S.T.T.A. affiliates who have not…[contributed] the full amount of their ‘Fighting Fund’ quota"—including those who have "advised me they are not financially able to contribute their quota and others [who] have not even bothered to advise [me]—President Cinnater makes a "direct appeal" for funds, urges the affiliates to solicit their individual members. He makes it clear he’s arranged a series of exhibitions with the English T.T.A. and the Swedish T.T.A., in return for which each will guarantee the USTTA $1,000. Which is one half the money the Team needs.

Of course some individual members have already contributed—anything from $.25 (Pennsylvania President Mel Evans, Jr.) to $100 (violinist Jascha Heifetz). A $10 contributor was Carl Zeisberg, former USTTA President, who had the unhappy duty in the Jan., 1949 Topics of writing the obituary of his friend Tom Bradley, whom he called the "Father of American Table Tennis" for his pioneer role in helping to organize the USTTA.

Though the ‘Fighting Fund’ quota had not been met, Cinnater had authorized the Team’s departure, knowing full well, he said, on what the "future fate of our continued representation at these Championships" depended. The affiliates had to come through.

Topics said that, on meeting in Sweden, the U.S. Team split into two nearby units. Captain Jimmy McClure, Reisman, and Tybie Thall played matches in "the little fishing town of Gravarne," where they were presented with "beautiful leather-fitted cases." Miles, Cartland, McLean, and Shahian went to Ljungskile where for their friendly efforts they received "gifts of glass vases." Perhaps Topics has the composition of the units wrong, but, if not, the units had to have been rearranged and exhibitions carried on elsewhere, for Topics also lists results of matches in Tibro and Halmstad where only the unit of McClure, Miles, McLean, and Shahian played. Also, only Miles and McClure are mentioned in the snippet about the tournament at Norrkoping, won by Sweden’s Tage Flisberg, that drew 900 spectators. Further, Reisman has a startling and convincing story of being on tour in Sweden with Cartland, which I’ll take up later.

For certain, the Jan. 19 International Match in Gothenburg between Sweden and the U.S. men (Miles, Reisman, Cartland), played Swaythling Cup style, drew the largest attendance by far. Since match after match in the tie had a 19 or deuce game, the show must have generated quite a home-crowd response. The U.S. was down 4-1 but rallied to win 5-4 when Miles beat Bengt Grieve, 27-25 in the deciding 3rd game of the 9th and last match. The U.S. Team later returned to Gothenburg on Jan. 31 for a warm-up tournament—which Miles won over Hungary’s Ferenc Sido, 19 in the 4th.

Swaythling Cup Play

Eventually it was on to Stockholm for the Feb. 4-10 World’s. Favorites to capture the Swaythling Cup were not only the Czechs, winners the last two years, but the Americans who’d twice lost to them, and perhaps the Hungarians, for, according to Barna, Josef Koczian, twice a winner over Andreadis this season, was "the most improved of all the Continental players." France, Sweden, and England were capable of upsets. Bergmann, the world’s #1 professional, had decided to represent England both in the Team’s and the Individuals—perhaps because some were saying, what to others was absurd, that, since he was out of practice, he was afraid to play. Of course, having something to prove, he proceeded to win the pre-World’s Netherlands Open over Johnny Leach, though at one point being down 18-10 in the 5th to France’s Michel Haguenauer.

The Swaythling Cup schedule didn’t allow the U.S. men much of a gradual toughening-up process. They opened at 9:30 a.m. against Norway, the weakest team in their Group; then in the afternoon they were given a walkover when Poland didn’t show. So how did our players warm up? They began playing the Hungarians for dollars in the practice room—something McClure didn’t think was too smart and eventually stopped, since the U.S. was scheduled to play Hungary at 7 o’clock that evening.

Before this crucial tie with Hungary, Miles "jokingly offered to bet that his side would win." Joke or not, this (and likely another thing or two) so incensed a Hungarian broadcaster covering the tournament that he aired his wrath publicly by calling the Americans a "bunch of dollar imperialist puppets, reactionaries and betting braggarts." Faced with the threat of being barred from using Swedish radio if he persisted in using such "slander and propaganda," the broadcaster remained unrepentant, said he would "do it again anytime if given an opportunity." If, after reading this special story to the New York Times, USTTA officials were disturbed enough to send a protesting wire to this fellow, or anyone else, the article didn’t say.

In Cup play last year, Miles had disposed of Sido, 2-0, but then had had 19 in the 4th trouble with him in the Singles. Here in Stockholm, in the opening match of this key tie, he lost to him 15 and 13. Cartland (-11, 20, -16) tried to come back against Koczian but couldn’t. And when Reisman lost in straight games to Soos, the U.S. was down 3-0. However, Miles took care of Koczian as expected, so if Reisman could win his match with Sido, we still had a chance. The massive Hungarian’s heavy racket repeatedly sent the ball thudding into Marty’s much lighter one, but Marty had just enough feel to pull out a win, 23-21 in the 3rd. That was all for the U.S. though—Cartland, losing the 1st at deuce, fell to Soos, and Reisman to Koczian, both two straight. Since Hungary advanced to the final undefeated, it made no difference that we survived a 5-4 struggle with France and won the rest of the ties with ease.

Czechoslovakia wasn’t tested in its Group, but in the final with Hungary it was far different. Vana, on outlasting Sido deuce in the 3rd, claimed his needed three matches. And Ivan Andreadis, though losing to Sido, downed Soos for a Czech fourth. But Koczian, proving that Barna knew what he was talking about, again outplayed Andreadis, and when it most counted the veteran Soos delivered—finished off Vana’s Defending World Champion Doubles partner Ladislav "Laci" Stipek, who earlier, leading Sido 18-12 in the 3rd, had lost the match that would have made all the difference. Play had been "interspersed with Hungarian war-cries," and after Hungary had won 5-4, a "beaming" Sido carried Soos "from the table shoulder-high." Small consolation—was it?—for Stipek that he would go on to win the Consolation’s.

Corbillon Cup

In Corbillon Cup play, in Group A, England reached the final—with Peggy Franks and Pinky Barnes winning the big 3-2 ties against France (5-1) and Austria (4-2).

In Group B, U.S. Capt. McClure played McLean and Shahian in the Singles and McLean/Thall in the Doubles in all the ties.

Most of the ties were 3-0 easy. We defeated Scotland (4-3), 3-1, when Helen Elliot could beat Shahian but not McLean. And downed the Czechs (5-2), 3-1, when McLean won both her matches against Eliska Fuerstova and Kveta Hruskova, and Peggy and Tybie came through with a cramped but all-important deuce-in-the-3rd doubles win. Then against Hungary, when Shahian succumbed as expected to Defending Singles Champion Gizi Farkas, and we dropped the only doubles in the Cup, lost, it would seem, the lucky dice to our game play, Chance handed us another pair, and, lo, Peggy rolled, hurled through Farkas to send the tie into the 5th. Which meant Shahian vs. Rose Karpati. "My arm was petrified," Millie later wrote me. "I was scared to death because I would have been a real goat if I lost after the magnificent effort of Peggy." But Karpati "played with tears streaming down her face because Farkas had lost to McLean." And to be "honest," Millie admitted, "Karpati was not too good, so when I managed to win the first game at deuce, the second was easy." (Karpati wasn’t too bad either. In the ’51 World’s, she and Koczian would lose in the semi’s of the Mixed in 5 to the eventual winners, Vana/Rozeanu]." Anyway, said Millie, "when I managed to win the first game at deuce, the second was easy").

In the final, against England, after Shahian had lost two close games to Franks, Peggy overpowered Barnes, then with Tybie’s crucial help gave us a deuce-in-the-3rd doubles win. After which, up 1-0 on Franks and at deuce in the 2nd, Peggy again held on, as she had against Farkas, to win for the U.S., for the second and last time, the Corbillon Cup.

Men’s Singles

In the Men’s Singles (before Soos, taking advantage of the time-limit rule, eliminated Defending Champ Bergmann in the quarter’s), both McClure and Cartland lost tough 2nd-round matches—Jimmy to Sweden’s Arne Anderson, deuce in the 5th, and Doug, -20, -20, 5, -15 to his friend "Alex" Ehrlich, Poland’s wily 3-time pre-World War II finalist, and afterwards even wilier concentration camp survivor. Miles, described as being "frail, monk-like," was defeated in the quarter’s, as he had been in ’48—this time by Barna’s "dark horse" for the title, Leach, 26-24 in the 5th (after having had two match points). Of psychological interest is the fact that in the Feb., ’49 English Open "Souvenir Programme" in an article (written before Dick’s match with Johnny at the World’s) entitled "The Lonely Men In The Middle," Leach described Miles as "a little drawn, as if something inside was getting tied up in knots" (7).

"Miles must have broken a leg if he lost to Leach," Eddie Pinner, a future USTTA Hall of Famer himself , said when New Yorkers heard the news. But it wasn’t Dick’s leg that did him in, it was his arm—down match point he missed a hangar. Of course I ought to add that English International Stanley Proffitt did write that Leach, who’d eliminated Sido in the 8th’s, "retrieved shots in a manner that amazed not only the crowd but Miles himself."

After Dick was beaten, Cartland gave him 5-1 odds that Leach wouldn’t win the tournament, and Dick accepted. Johnny then went on, by way of two more grueling matches, to take the title. He had a 5-game semi’s win over Soos—something more for Miles to muse over, since Dick told me, "I could give Soos 3 or 4 in the practice room, Reisman could give him 5 [Maybe, but Marty lost to him in the Team’s]." Then Johnny beat Vana, a finalist at four of the last five World’s, who’d been down 2-1 in the quarter’s to France’s Guy Amouretti.

So it was left to Reisman on these (slow? slippery?) tables to distinguish himself, and he did, up to a point—had wins over Yugoslavia’s Darko Zolinar, destined to be a World finalist in both Singles and Doubles in the mid-1950’s, and Max Marinko, who 9 years later he’d beat in the final of the U.S. Open. In the quarter’s, Marty met Barna’s pre-tournament pick as Champion, Andreadis, whom he had lost to in the Team’s last year. So what happened this year? Reisman won three zip, 18, 13, 17. Then, in the semi’s…if only Marty had won that first 23-21 game against Vana—but he didn’t, and that ended his great run. Still, no American man to this day has ever gotten further in the Singles.

Leach, having survived Miles and Soos in 5, also proved durable against Vana, beat him 17 in the 5th. Thus he became at 25 the new World Champion, the first native-born Englishman in 20 years—since Fred Perry did it in ’29—to win the title.

Women’s Singles

A 1st-round surprise in the Women’s Singles: McLean departed docilely, scored only 44 points, against Hruskova whom she’d beaten 2-0 in the Team’s. Oh, well, the loss did allow Peggy to win another World Championship—the Consolation’s over Wales’s Audrey Bates. Hruskova went on to play like, well, a world-beater—she defeated Elliot with ease in the quarter’s, then, ohh, 18-in-the-5th eliminated our Tybie, who’d advanced to the semi’s with a 5-game victory over France’s Jeanne Delay. Millie, meanwhile, met in the 8th’s the Czech Fuerstova and lost a heartbreaker, 20, 18, -12, -18, -21. In the next round, former World Champion Trude Pritzi would be too steady for Fuerstova. And almost too much for Farkas, until Gizi, having scored 12 points in each of the first two games, wised up—and, "to jeers and cat-calls," won the next three games with a total of 15 points: 8-1, 4-3, and, again after 20 minutes, 3-0. McClure said that while Pritzi and Farkas played one point, Reisman and Vana played their whole match. In the final against Hruskova, Farkas again lost the 1st two games, then won the next three under 10. She was very talented of course, but impulsive, needed to be reigned in, coached? By 1951, according to Ron Craydon of the English Swaythling Cup Team, Gizi would be the "brainiest player in the game." By 1951, that is.

No sooner had 22-year-old Farkas won the Singles Championship for the 3rd straight year than she burst into tears. Tears of happiness? Alas, not, rather just the opposite—she was arrested! As Time magazine put it:

"…As with her other compatriots, Gizi’s excursion this side of the Iron Curtain was an occasion for stocking up on nylons, watches, lighters—all the paraphernalia of the bourgeois West [Reisman in The Money Player says he was interested in stocking up on such things too]. She was so awe-struck at the sight of Swedish abundance that she had bagged a handsome wool jacket without paying for it. ‘I’ve never seen such a beautiful thing before,’ she admitted. ‘I just couldn’t resist it.’"

Gizi, previously hailed by Szepesi (the anti-American broadcaster) for her "moral superiority over her fellow contestants," was quickly and "ignominiously packed off to Hungary by plane" (February 21, 1949, 29).

Doubles Play

In Men’s Doubles, Reisman partnered McClure, and after rallying to beat the English team of Aubrey Simons/Ron Sharman, they fell in 4 to the Harangozo brothers, Vilim and Tibor. Dick paired with super-steady Cartland (whom he ranked among the top 8 players in the world), and, winning deuce games against Sido/Soos, Ehrlich/Adolph Slar, and Amouretti/Haguenauer, they reached the semi’s, where they went down, -13, -22, 14, -8, to the winners Andreadis and Frantisek Tokar. Miles tells the story of how at one point (in the second game?) Tokar serves a net ball, which Dick deliberately lofts up to indicate a let, only to see Andreadis come in over the table and kill it. Dick says to the umpire, "The serve hit the top of the net." When the umpire ignores him, Dick addresses Andreadis, "Ivan," he says, "the ball hit the top of the net." "This is true," says Andreadis, "but we need the point."

In case you’re wondering, Dick did pay Andreadis that $100 bet he’d made that the ’48 World’s would be his last. Losses rankle winners, but they always return for more of them.

In Women’s Doubles, it didn’t seem possible but Peggy and Tybie, seeded #2, met disaster in the 1st round—were upset by the Welsh pair of Audrey Bates and Nancy Evans, wife of future ITTF President Roy Evans. At least Millie, with Trude Pritzi as her partner, won a match. And no disgrace losing in the 2ndround to Farkas/Elliot, for there was no team in the field, including England’s finalists Barnes/Joan Crosbie, remotely comparable.

In 1st-round action in the Mixed, Leach/ Franks knocked out Defending Champs Miles/ Thall in 5. Four rounds later this English pair would be beaten in the semi’s by the eventual winners, Sido/Farkas, who’d started with a win over Cartland/Shahian. Reisman/McLean, after besting Soos/Karpati in the quarter’s, were stopped in the semi’s by the Czech runner-ups Vana/ Hruskova.

English Open

On then immediately to the English Open where, as in the World’s just completed, the ITTF had finally decided to seed players on a merit basis (before, they’d merely separated competitors from the same country, and if the two best players in the world met in the first round, so be it.)

Miles, Reisman, Cartland—all on Schiff’s World Top 10 list. Did they think of themselves as amateurs or professionals? Easy to judge that, huh?

Dick, continually unhappy with his accommodations, voiced his objections to the London Press: "We’ll never win the men’s singles title the way we go at it. We don’t have enough money to do the job right." Elaborating, he speaks, first, of the exhibitions the Team put on in Sweden: "Our association sold us to the sponsoring association for $1000 to help pay our expenses there by ship and the Swedes collected $6,000 out of our exhibition tours. Even though we drew full houses nearly every night, we stayed in the cheapest hotels." Then he speaks of the hospitality arrangements here in London: "Players had meal tickets at a restaurant, but I could only go [sic: apparently the English reporter’s interpolation for the American idiom "stand"] one meal. Last night Marty Reisman collapsed in his hotel and the doctor said he needed more sugar." So Miles and Reisman took it upon themselves to leave the hotel the English had billeted them in and move to a better one, and of course, regardless of the repercussions that might follow, bill the English TTA. And since the Americans were of course among the top drawing cards, what could the English do—default them? Hardly. "You have put a gun to our heads," said C. Corti Woodcock of the Championships Committee.

This ’49 English Open was sweet for Reisman. In a 5-game quarter’s he upset 3-time World semifinalist Ehrlich (described as "ferocious—like an animal"). Then (in a match where spectators clapped at the removal of an umpire after the first game) he beat Miles in the semi’s, also in 5. England’s Table Tennis Review, the rival publication to the official ETTA one, Table Tennis, said, "The younger American stood practically flat-footed hitting from both wings with amazing accuracy, whilst Miles chopped viciously, only occasionally cracking a forehand" (Mar.-Apr., 1949, 20). This win would prompt Lawrence’s-habitue Dave Hartman back home in N.Y. to circulate his parody of William Blake’s famous poem "The Tiger." Dave dedicated it to his friend Reisman, and one can see why:

"Miles, Miles, always tight

Choking every Friday night.

What boy fire red knocked

Thee in Wembley dead?

When Reisman’s bat bangs

Down the ball and plasters

You against the wall, do

Your backers smile to see,

Did he who made the

Hawk make thee?"

Coming out to meet Marty in the final was the ageless Barna, victor over Michel Lanskoy, a Frenchman who couldn’t have heard the few lone voices cheering for him there at Wembley because, so I heard, he was stone deaf.* As may be seen in Bobby Gusikoff’s "Legends" tape, Marty, pirouetting returns, outlasted the 38-year-old Barna in 5 (after losing, to tumultuous applause, the 3rd from 20-15 up). Said a writer for Table Tennis:

"At present he [Reisman] seems to ignore his opponent, playing a private little game all his own with the ball. [Being up] 20-15 to Marty is a chance to hit 5 off the table…unless it is the fifth game, when he seems to concentrate for the first time in the match.

His outward appearance of judicial calm is belied by frequent ear-shattering yells, discussions with the spectators, and self-exhortations. Whether these are spontaneous, to release tension, or just part of the act we cannot say.

Until we know the impish young man with the interesting new technique better, we shall have to ask, in his own language, ‘Who are you kidding, Marty?’"

(reprinted in TTT, May, 1949, 9).

Winning the Men’s Singles at this prestigious tournament, something no other American has ever done, was perhaps Marty’s greatest accomplishment. Back home it earned him two sentences in the unsigned "Overseas News" column on page 9 of the April Topics.

The Men’s Doubles was an all-England final—with Barna/Bergman besting Leach/Jack Carrington. The Women’s Doubles went to McLean/Thall over England’s Franks and animated Junior Girls Champ Adele Wood, whom Millie found "smashing" as aboard ship coming from the World’s to England she went cavorting about the deck singing and dancing.

Small stuff, I’m sure to Miles, but he and Tybie did win the Mixed—via the semi’s over Leach/Franks, who’d beaten them off the bat at the World’s, and in the final, 23-21 in the 5th, over teammates Reisman/McLean who’d advanced by beating Barna/Elliot.

The U.S. women’s appearance in London prompted Peggy Allen, an Englishwoman, to write an article, "Those American Girls!" in the Mar.-Apr., 1949 issue of Table Tennis Review, which would introduce them to her readership…and mine. Tybie had fancied that in contrast to Reisman’s "pretty boy" appearance, Doug’s hair when it came forward and down made him look like "the devil" (a comparison unconsciously prompted by some other aspect of Doug’s person or personality?). Now we learn, what we already knew, that this Thelma Thall, who works "as a typist and bookkeeper for a firm of real estate agents," has the nickname "Tybie," and learn what we didn’t know, that the name "is a combination of two Hebrew words meaning ‘dove’ and ‘devil.’ Says Allen, "nothing could be more apt" (24).

Allen describes Boston secretary Shahian as having "very dark eyes with wonderful thick, black lashes, a pale skin and the loveliest shade of blue-black hair which falls in thick natural waves on her shoulders." Never "in her wildest dreams" had Millie visualized such a wonderful venue as Wembley, and where—after her play in Stockholm she was World #10—there were boys and girls who wanted her autograph.

Allen’s "take" on World #2 McLean? As follows:

"…She has a dry sense of humour, an insatiable curiosity regarding English ideas and methods and in order to acquire the correct ‘slant’ on English life perused the London ‘Times’ with great interest during her stay in London.

She is twenty-two but looks sixteen, has a loveable, elfin face and the most beautiful teeth you ever saw—I can’t help feeling that a certain firm of toothpaste manufacturers, well known for their ‘pun’ adverts, missed a wonderful opportunity there—especially in view of her surname! [English aficionado Ron Crayden will actually write her name as "McClean."]

Hitherto she wore her hair almost straight and shoulder length, but having seen Suzy Barna’s [Victor’s wife’s] new short haircut and having a great desire to ‘look her age,’ we made a special trip to Suzy’s own hair-dresser at Pinner where her locks were shorn, shampooed and set in the new ‘gamin’ hairstyle. When she emerged from the dryer we were enchanted with the result, it really did suit her beautifully, but as for looking older—well, she had only succeeded in making herself look younger and more cuddlesome than ever!" (23).

In the Women’s quarter’s, Thall, down 2-1 and at 22-all in the 4th, had a gutsy win over Pinkie Barnes who’d amused our three girls by reading one or more of their palms. But then in the semi’s, suffering from a strained foot muscle, Tybie was no match for McLean. Millie also had a good quarter’s win, took out Franks, whom the Americans liked—at least when she was smiling or laughing—but then she couldn’t beat Elliot in the semi’s. McLean won the Women’s—"routed" world quarterfinalist Elliot in the final. But Helen was in no mood to play. Only hours earlier, she’d been informed that Peter Coia, the Scottish TTA President who’d helped advance her career, had died in a plane crash—this after he’d said regretfully that business demands had to take precedence over Helen’s urgings that he remain in London to watch her final.

One last exhibition for the U.S. Team remained—in Southampton on Feb. 25. For a moment or two, though, the players must have thought that, Exhibition or no Exhibition, they had a higher priority—not to miss their steamer. Apparently they were asked to cut it very close, for according to the ETTA’s Table Tennis they were scheduled to be on court in Southampton "until an hour before" their S.S. America set sail for New York! (Feb., 1949, 7).

En route home, Miles, Reisman (advertised in Southampton as "a young man who doesn’t mean a ball to come back when he hits it"), and Cartland (for some reason, according to the Southampton Program-leaflet, he and Shahian hadn’t been scheduled to play there) received word that disciplinary action was going to be taken against them. Doug had remained in the London hotel originally assigned him, and so couldn’t be faulted with Dick and Marty on that, but both the Swedish and English Associations were protesting that all three players hadn’t honored all their exhibition commitments and ought to be punished. Reisman, for one, swore that he didn’t renege on a single exhibition. Cartland, I’m sure, swore too. He probably felt he’d already been punished enough in Sweden having to give all those exhibitions, and word was that he was trying to get out of doing any more of them—had, in fact, made sure he’d received a telegram saying that his mother was sick.

The Sept.-Oct., 1949 issue of the Table Tennis Review said that the Swedish Association had made it clear to the USTTA that their representatives had acted deplorably. McClure said that when the U.S. Team arrived in Sweden, 20-25 people came down to the docks to welcome them, and that when they left only Corti Woodcock of the English Association bid them farewell. Also, in some people’s eyes, the fact that Miles and Reisman had been quite openly betting at the English Open "under the noses of officials" made them "a ruddy nuisance who spoiled the atmosphere of the tournament." It did not seem likely that they’d be treated in world-class fashion at home either.

SELECTED NOTES.

*Lanskoy’s advice to hard-of-hearing players is, "Don’t Let It Worry You." See his article in Table Tennis, Dec., 1949. 9.