In describing the action at the 1983 U.S. Open, held June 8-12 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, I’ll start with the Women’s play, then follow with the Girls’, Boys’, Rating and Class events, and end finally with the Men’s play in which I also include a Profile of one of the tournament favorites, West Germany’s Engelbert Huging.
It may be that no U.S.-born woman player in my lifetime will again win the U.S. Open or maybe even the Closed. The last such Champion in the then limited competition was Wendy Hicks in 1972.
Victorious in this year’s Championship was Soo-ja Lee ($400), formerly a member of the South Korean National Team (World #4 in 1981), who defeated her winning Women’s Doubles partner Kyung-ja Kim ($300), also formerly a member of the South Korean National Team (World #11 in 1981), in a four-game final.
Insook Bhushan, five-time U.S. Closed Champ, likewise, before becoming the mainstay of the U.S. Team, a member of the Korean National Team (World #27 in 1977), was a badly beaten semifinalist.
Unlike the hit-and-run visiting male Champions this past decade, Ms. Lee and Ms. Kim say they plan to stay in this country. They can usually be found before a major tournament practicing hard with the top men players at the Korean TTA in the USA Club in Los Angeles.
Actually, so the story goes, it was too much practicing that had done in Kyung-ja—had forced her to have an operation on her wrist. As for Soo-ja (not to be confused with He-ja Lee, D-J’s wife, who’s at least temporarily retired, expecting their second child), she too had to leave the South Korean National Team Training Center—because of a bad back.
So, the story goes, both young women have emigrated to the West Coast, and if they can play on U.S. Teams, fine—meanwhile, as they say, they’re just “having fun.” One way they enjoyed themselves was by entering the International Club event. Since they weren’t part of the visiting Korean Airlines Team, and since they don’t yet have “green” cards, they weren’t allowed to represent either Korea or the U.S. in the International Team competition.
Playing in this Club event, they reached the “A” final when Kim just got by 2415-rated Rey Domingo, 19 in the 3rd in the 5th and deciding match. (The Domingo team, which included Scott Butler and Khoa Nguyen, had earlier struggled past Perry Schwartzberg and Brandon Olson when Nguyen knocked off Olson, 23-21 in the 3rd in the last match.)
Also reaching the International Club “A” final was the partnership of Sean O’Neill and Quang Bui ($200), who’d defeated Jamaican Internationals Steve Hylton and David Marchalleck in five in the semi’s. When Soo-ja Lee (who’d been beaten by Domingo in the tie before) lost both her singles, the “fun” (though just for the moment) was over for these Koreans, and they had to be content with the $100 second prize.
Winners in the International Club “B” ($100) final were Erwin Hom/Ching Shyne Wu over Paul Raphel/Charles Childers, def. ($50). In the “C” final ($100) the father/son combo of Eric/Mitch Rothfleisch prevailed over Kenny Owens/Richard Hopper ($50).
Meanwhile, in the Women’s International Team event, the U.S. “A” partnership of Insook, Angelita Rosal-Sistrunk, and Kasia Dawidowicz Gaca had warmed up against Canada and then downed the Korean “A” team (understood among the initiate to be the weaker of the two Korean teams) to reach the final.
Coming out to meet them for the title was the Korean “B” team, whose star chopper, Ki Kwang Kim, had scored the two singles wins in the semi’s tie that had enabled Korea to beat Chinese-Taipei (so newly accepted by the ITTF as to be playing in its first international Open). “Whoever coined the phrase ‘impassive Oriental,’ said spectator Don Gunn, “was talking through his hat. The Korean women players were constantly emitting shrill peeps, like bat sonar.”
Against this Korean Airlines Team ($300), the U.S. challenge fell short. With her team down 2-1, Insook had Kim 1-0 and, after being behind 20-18, had deuced it. But then, for whatever reason, Insook passed up 1-2-3 high balls, chose not to hit any one of them, and Kim picked Bhushan’s third push and smacked it into her middle for a winner—then took that game…and the next, and the U.S. had to settle for second ($200).
In the Women’s Singles, there were 32 players—and 26 of the 30 matches right up to the final were uncontested, over and done with in straight games. Of the contested matches, the most exciting one starred Angie Rosal-Sustrunk, who by the time you read this will be off to live in Sweden. She made a marvelous -19, -16, 19, 16, 14 comeback against Hsiao-mei Kuo of the Chinese Taipei team. Another winner was Li-zu Lin, the most promising young woman player in Taiwan, who held on to finish Korea’s Jin Sook Lee in five. And Kyung-ja Kim beat both the stubborn (16, 14, -22, 12) three-time Chinese Taipei National Champ Hsiu-yu Chang, and the equally stubborn (15, 16, -18, 16) Korean Soon Ae Bang. Of course the Asian women figured prominently in the doubles. In the Women’s, Lee and Kim ($200) survived an 11, -22, 19 match against Kuo and Bhushan. And in the Mixed, Chinese Taipei’s Wen-Chia Wu/Chang ($200) downed the California-based Koreans Jae-ho Song/Lee ($100).
Kasia Gaca, Women’s U-2100 winner ($200), and Lisa Gee, the four-game runner-up ($100), lost in the first round. Others, successful in other events, didn’t play in the Women’s Singles. These included: Kim Gilbert, first in the Women’s U-1800 over Cindy Cooper; Patti Hodgins, who took the Over 40’s from Lorma Bauer; and Lan Vuong playing so determinedly to reach the final of the U-21’s, beating Canada’s #7 Julia Johnson, 15, -19, 23, and Taiwan’s Kuo, -8, 20, 25, before losing in the final to Chinese Taipei’s Chang ($100).
In the end, then, to no one’s surprise, it was Soo-ja Lee ($400) and Kyung-ja Kim ($300) for the title. With the match 1-1 in games and Lee up 20-15 in the 3rd, Kim was maneuvered so out of position that on losing the point, and the game, she could only laugh. After all, these two have been friendly competitors for 10 years now, so it can’t be all blood and guts. Up 17-14 in the 4th, Lee suddenly came down with a cramp. I for one, though, never thought for a moment she wouldn’t get up and quickly finish the match. Which is what, rather soon, she did.
Kyung-ja Kim ($300), but not Soo-ja Lee or any of the visiting Koreans, also played in the U-2500’s. Before, in the Club competition, Kyung-ja had scored victories over such good 2250-2450 players as Duc Luu, Scott Butler, Carlos Brignardello, Perry Schwartzberg, and Rey Domingo. Now she continued going through more of the same. “I tell you,” said one victim, “her nothing ball’s INVISIBLE!” She downed Sean O’Neill and Canada’s Horatio Pintea. Then, in a wrenching (-16, 20, 12) semi’s, eliminated Insook Bhushan. Insook was somewhat handicapped, however, in that, after her ligament injury and forced withdrawal at the Tokyo World’s, she was still playing with a taped ankle. Also, in an effort to ward off cramps, she’d taken to eating three bananas a day. Finally, there was only one more good American player for Kyung-ja to beat, Brian Masters ($200)—and this she did convincingly, three straight.
No one has to travel to the Junior Olympics to understand who the best young women players in our country are. The nine-entry Under 17 field is essentially the nine-entry U-15 field, and the dominant players (shades of Patty Martinez) continue to be Californians who can hit a forehand—namely, earlier titleholders Diana Gee, her twin sister Lisa, and Tieu Lan Vuong.
Winning the U-17’s was a struggle for Diana. In the semi’s she had to go five to beat arch-rival Vuong, and in the final against the best young Chinese Taipei star, Li-zu Lin, she had to (17, -19, 21, 17) play the sustainedly strong match that in the semi’s her sister Lisa—though she’d been capable of beating Li three straight (17, -23, 19, -14, -9)—couldn’t do. Both the Gee sisters, however, did share the U-17 Doubles title by defeating Vicky Wong and Jasmine Wang.
Winning the U-15’s was a struggle for Lan—she’d had to go 19-in-the-5th to beat arch-rival Diana. Lisa was again stopped…this time in an early uncontested match by Wong.
There were only five entries in the Girls U-13—leading one to believe that the 450 or so USTTA members who participated here in Vegas (1) haven’t encouraged their children to play the sport or (2) haven’t the money or inclination to bring them to Vegas (which is the same thing as 1). In the semi’s, Michele Mantel beat Ecuadorian Nuria Niemes, who on losing threw up her hands and looked at her ever-encouraging father as if to say, “Hey, O.K., I did my best.” Nuria did take the U-11’s—from Heather Haines, losing semifinalist in the 13’s to Janine Schroeder.
In the U-13 final, runner-up Janine had much too much trouble (mostly psychological, I think) with Michigan neighbor Michele’s serves, both before and after Michele was asked to stop foot-stamping.
Winning both the Boys Under 17 and Under 15 Championships, as he’d done six months earlier in the 1982 U.S. Closed, was Sean O’Neill—clearly now the best Junior in the country, even when he’d been hurtin,’ (but more of that in a moment).
The four top-rated players in the 35-entry U-17’s (none of whom had won this U.S. Open event before) were (1) 2443-rated O’Neill, (2) 2325 Scott Butler, (3) 2287 Brandon Olson, and 2285 Khoa Nguyen. Not coincidentally these four had been the most promising Juniors a year ago and had trained in China.
As it happened, Brandon went into Sean’s half of the draw, and Khoa into Scott’s. This did not please Brandon, who felt that the #2 seed ought to be playing the #3 seed. Some of the other draw positions certainly seemed questionable—1176 John Baughman, for example, moved into the 8th’s without playing a match, as did 1425 Angel Soltero, who as if on wings advanced not with one but two byes.
In early-round matches of interest, Michigan’s Dave Alt downed North Carolina’s Arlie Proctor, 14, -16, 24, -19, 18; Boyd Roby scored an O.K. or K.O. over Ecuadorian Horge Canizares, 11, 20, -18, 19; and a nervous 2029 Peter Bergstrom, fighting off self—and 1716 Jon Self—struggled to prevail, -16, 18, 16, -19, 16.
Top-seed Sean O’Neill’s first opponent was British Columbia’s Tommy Vuong, whose father played for Vietnam in the ‘50’s. Tommy, with his parents, grandfather, three brothers, and seven sisters—after a hurried exodus from war-torn Saigon and a torturous seven days in Malaysia, and, having been turned away from there, on to Indonesia, eventually arrived in Canada three years ago and is now one of that country’s best young prospects. Strength of spirit Tommy obviously has, but he was no match for Sean, already one of the country’s best men players.
Second-seed Scott Butler’s first opponent was the other good young Canadian, Alberta’s Johnny Mah. Nice draw for him too—real neighborly. Mah, who beat 2105 Jimmy Butler in the U-15’s, seems to me to show more potential than any Canadian junior since Joe Ng, but he couldn’t contest with Scott.
Brandon Olson’s easily-dispatched first opponent was Per Mattsson, whose brother, Lars, last year won the U.S. Open U-15’s. The Mattsson family has been extremely sensitive and helpful to the U.S. players who’ve gone to train in Sweden. Brandon, who’d win the U-17 Doubles with Khoa Nguyen (19 in the 5th over O’Neill/Peter Gripler), went on in this his last season of eligibility to take out two more Swedes, Bergstrom and Christer Andersson, before losing to Sean in the semi’s.
Khoa’s first opponent was still another Swede, Goran Wrana, who, surprise, surprise, as easy as 1-2-3, defeated him in straight games. Goran, in effect, became the fourth seed and continued to prove how unknown good he was by beating Kit Jeerapaet, fellow countryman Gripler, and in the semi’s Scott Butler.
O’Neill would normally be a big favorite to win the U-17 final from Wrana, whom he beat in straight games in the International Team’s. But he was still showing the effects of a groin pull he’d suffered earlier in the U-15 final, and was doubtless quite relieved to win in the 3rd (first blocking back at deuce what looked to be a winner for the Swede and then pushing patiently until Goran took and missed his match-ending shot).
In the U-15’s (incredibly, 24 of the 26 matches went only three games), Sean and Scott were doing their year-in, year-out thing—with the match swinging to O’Neill. Indeed, Sean was up 2-0 but down 12-6 in the 3rd when he tried to loop, fell over backwards—popped something at his hip—and went straight down.
Could he, would he continue to play? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes.
Behind as he was in the 3rd, O’Neill continued on, but, as expected, lost that game. At the break, Dr, Ernie Bauer told Sean the comforting news: it looked like a groin pull—for relief, don’t play. Sean could stand, but it hurt when he bent over. Back out at the table, he lost the 4th.
But at the beginning of the 5th, Scott, realizing he now had the advantage, was perhaps a little too nervous or eager, and Sean, often giving up his improvised tactic of flatfoot footwork, started discussing in some shots—with the strange turnabout result that O’Neill was soon up 12-3. However, Scott’s not one to give up, and he didn’t here. He got to 10-13, then 13-15, then went 16-15 up—a 13-3 run. But now, improbably, the match turned again, Sean got four in a row, and Scott couldn’t catch him.
Butler did team with brother Jimmy to take the U-15 Doubles (over Mattsson/Jeerapaet). And Jimmy, as expected, won the U-13’s, beating 11-year-old Chi-ming Chui, 15, 17, 19. Young Butler, who’d won the 13 Doubles with Dhiren Narotam over the Chuis, was unexpectedly extended into the 3rd, though, in both the quarter’s and semi’s by, first, 9-year-old Chi-sun Chui and then by 1686-rated Chi Ngo.
After Chi had lost to Jimmy, Li Henan, the famous Chinese Coach who’s visiting this country and was watching the match, said some nice things to him. “Your sportsmanship was very good. Even though you lost, you never got mad, never lost patience—that was excellent. And you have a fine forehand and your footwork was good. But you have a weakness: you push heavy chop into the net—you must learn to arc the ball higher.”
When Li Henan, still smiling, stopped to let that sink in, 13-year-old Chi said politely, “Thank you.”
“You must keep attacking,” said Li. “You must never chop. The loop is now too powerful to chop against. Chopping is no good.”
“Thank you,” said Chi.
In the U-11 final, Chi-sun Chui beat his two-years-older brother Chi-ming. How’d they get so good? “Have you ever seen Lim Ming practicing with his sons?” a guy said to me. “He doesn’t hold back.” Winning the U-9’s was a gettin’ taller Texan, Eric Owens, over California’s Eddie Weiss, deuce in the 3rd. (I’ll bet at least one of the fathers went a little crazy over that one.) Weiss, who says he wants to be a professional when he grows up—a tennis professional—was playing with a shirt his grandfather had given him that read on the back, “Cool Eddie.” And cool he was—almost winning the first tournament he ever played in. Which isn’t what most of us looking back can say, is it?
Rating and Class Events (Winners not mentioned here are covered elsewhere)
U-4000 Doubles: Mike/Dan Walk ($100) over Roger Kuseski/ Paul Williams ($50). U-1900: Chris Kollar ($150) over Bill Walk, -15, 20, 14, then over Shmuel Goshen ($100). U-1800: Lenny Hauer ($150) over Khoa Nguyen ($100) who’d escaped Frank Suran, -15, 19, 21. U-1700: Mel Evans ($100) over Steve Shapiro ($50). U-3400 Doubles: Power Poon/Tom Baudry ($100) over Lai/Tim Aquino ($50). U-1600: Joe Tran ($100) over Rich Livingston ($50), deuce in the 5th. U-1500: Angel Soltero over Henry Blankenship in five. Women U-1500: Carol Trosa over Michele Mantel. U-1400: Ed Jaffe over Lou Morel in five. U-1300: Paul Antoniades in five over Jerry Darwish who’d eliminated Mike Dalton, 18 in the 5th. U-2600 Doubles: Tom Smart/Darwish over Soltero/Antoniades. U-1200: Robert Johnson over Darwish. Women U-1200: Esther Bochary over Sheila Weissberg. U-1000: Robert Dixon over Jim Scott, 15 in the 5th. Unrated: F. Reyes over Carlos Jiminez. Novice: Aaron Miraflon over Archilles Rodriguez. Over 70: Laszlo Bellak over Koon Wing Lock. Over 60: George Hendry over Harry Deschamps, -22, 20, 12, 19. Over 50: Bernie Bukiet ($100) over Maurice Moore. Esquire Doubles: Hendry/Myron Harris over Mac Horn/Vic Smith. Over 40 Under 1900: Poy over Sabin Tripa. Over 40 Under 1700: Eugene Wilson over John Baker. Over 40 Under 1500: Bob Reising over Ulpiano Santo.
In winning the U.S. Open, 19-year-old Eric Boggan, of Merrick, NY, became only the 11th native-born player in the 50-year history of the USTTA (U.S. Closed Champ Danny Seemiller was twice a finalist) to capture this prestigious championship.
West German visitor Engelbert Huging, this year’s deuce-in-the-5th runner-up, took his photo-finish loss well, for he felt he’d given a good account of himself after being two games down. He was of course pleased that the spectators, clapping and cheering him on in his comeback, as well as rooting for their favorite, Eric, who’d last-minute rallied to win, were obviously thrilled by the match. “So,” he said, “a fairy-tale ending—what people in America like, huh?”
And the people in America—well, better make that the players in this U.S. Open—did they like the playing conditions, or at least tolerate them, thinking that “This is as good as it gets?” Objections were voiced. “Row after row of tables--how can there be any meaning here? This is like a practice hall—like the feet of centipedes. This not the way an Open should be.” Perhaps not—but there were 525 players entered in almost 60 events, a turnout that, though it didn’t please everyone, pleased the Tropicana management. The mercury vapor lights above the courts were too glaring—couldn’t something be done about that? The complex clock not far from the Control Desk, as if very early overworked, had gotten an hour behind—but surely that couldn’t be cause to default anyone? All things considered, you could say that the Operations here ran rather smoothly, at least as far as the domestic players’ matches went.
So congratulations to those most involved in the actual running of this tournament: Neal Fox, Dick and Sue Evans, Tom McEvoy, Bill Haid, Andy Gad, Bob Partridge, Jim Hunter, John Trentor, Rich Livingston, and last but not least Dennis Masters. (M’god, have you seen Dennis lately? It appears he’s on his energized way to shedding 100 pounds.)
In the final of the Men’s International Team event that opened play, the USA “A” team ($500)—Eric Boggan/Danny Seemiller—defeated Canada “B” ($300)—Zoran Kosanovic/Errol Caetano, 3-0. USA also downed the Chinese Taipei “B” team ($200)—Chung-yong Chu/Tsung-min Hung—in the semi’s, 3-0, while Canada advanced by Chinese Taipei “A” ($200)—Wen-chia Wu/Huei-chieh Huang—3-1. Earlier, Canada had a tough 3-1 win over Korea “A—Kosanovic lost to Sung Soo Jung, but he beat Chang Hoon Lee (18 in the 3rd), as did Caetano (deuce in the 3rd). The USA “B” team—Attila Malek, Brian Masters, Ricky Seemiller—lost early to Germany/Ecuador—Engelbert Huging/Gustavo Ulloa, 3-0. Malek lost to Huging, 2-1, and Masters to Ulloa, 2-1.
The ratings of the 131 Men’s Singles participants ranged (only in table tennis could it happen) from a world-class 2658 to a something less than that, 1342. Of course one preliminary and/or first round later, there were just two players under 2100 who, without benefit of a bye, could say they’d survived that far.
Phil Moon of the Korean TTA in the USA, after being down 2-0 to Newgy’s Jerry Thrasher, came out from under the eclipse; and California-by-way-of-Vietnam’s Loc Ngo surprised New Jersey’s Barry Dattel, 19 in the 5th. Later, though, in the U-2200’s, won by Thrasher ($200) over Bohdan “Bob” Dawidowicz ($100), Dattel 20, -22, 19 stopped another Californian, Erwin Hom, so, as Barry has so often told me, the good breaks, the bad breaks, they all balance out.
In the best of the opening four-game matches, Rey Domingo downed early ‘60’s defensive star Bobby Fields, deuce in the 4th. Bobby, sporting an entourage and looking fit and ready to play (“The game’s year-round good therapy, gets your mind off other things”), won the Over 40 Doubles with Marty Doss, runner-up ($100) in the 40 Singles to D-J Lee ($200). In winning the Doubles they beat Howie Grossman and Dawidowicz whom Doss had just gotten by in the 40’s semi’s, 19 in the 3rd.
There were half a dozen interesting matches in the round of 64.
John Allen, who for months has been studying at the best table tennis schools in and around Tokyo (“The Japanese players LEARN table tennis in high school, then APPLY what they’ve learned at a university”), must have applied something—pressure anyway—to beat Dawidowicz in five.
Attila Malek, who’d lost to the #1 Dominican Mario Alvarez at the last World’s, proved in a very (-21, -19, 21, 7, 21) gutsy U.S. Champion’s performance that history doesn’t always repeat itself.
U.S. Team Manager Perry Schwartzberg, winning the key third game at 19, took out Lim Ming Chui in four. Earlier, Ming had downed Greg Plakos ($200), U-2000 winner over Bill Poy ($100), deuce in the 4th. Later, in the Hard Rubber event, Chui ($100) would come a close second to Dean Doyle ($200) who just recently gave up his Portland, OR club and is now busy adjusting to the changes he must face in Lake Tahoe.
Sean O’Neill, perhaps too predictably going cross-court, just did (11, -19, -18, 19, 20) out net-and-paddle would-be spoiler Jim Lazarus. And speaking of nets, wasn’t it just the night before that someone took off with about ten of them? Too bad Don Gunn didn’t get a pic of the culprit—but then it wouldn’t be long before he’d have camera and film ripped off too.
Horatio Pintea (his Canadian rating of 2357 was more accurate than the 2456 Neal Fox had given him?) sent Craig Manoogian 19-in-the-fourth, off to…well watch the NFL arm wrestlers. (And you think Craig’s big?)
And Ricky Seemiller, with a very shaky (20. -19, 17, 14) start, won out over National Sports Festival invitee Ron Lilly.
Of the seven native-born Americans left in the round of 32, Ricky was one of those again extended—this time against Korean Air Force Team member Cheong Young Kang, a penholder with a distinctive green stain on half the back of his racket. “I destroy penholders”—that was Ricky’s initial point of view. Why? Well, for one thing, unlike lots of other good players, Ricky can block effectively into their mid-points. Also, brother Danny always offers good advice. “Forget the anti—serve out, block to Kang’s backhand, then loop into his middle.” Was there any question then that Ricky would be up 19-17 in the 5th?
At which point, Kang got a net. But then Ricky went into a squat, served, and Kang couldn’t return it. Then Ricky went for his towel and Kang couldn’t stop that. Then in a moment Kang, coming off court, was a 21-18 loser. He stood just outside the barriers while his coach, using the back of his hand as a table, pointed here, there, and everywhere as he described how Kang, respectfully silent, had tactically lost control.
Later, in the U-2500’s, Ricky, before losing to Masters in the semi’s, had won a nail-biter from Caetano when, at 19-all in the deciding 3rd, he’d back-hand jabbed such a killer placement that the quick-reacting Canadian hadn’t the time even to stretch for it. Then, in a follow up to brother Danny’s yell, “You’ve got to move your feet this point,” Ricky danced to victory.
Caetano , who has this matter-of-fact habit of wrist-twirling his racket round and round before serving (though the Chinese rubber on each side’s the same), got 19, 12, -20, -19, -11 gunned down almost at the point of winning by the #1 Jamaican International Steve Hylton, son of long-time JTTA President Roy Hylton. (Steve also had two nice wins in the Youth event: 23-21 in the 3rd over Peruvian #1 Walter Nathan, and 18 in the 3rd over Canada’s Horatio Pintea.)
Veteran Indian World team member Manjit Dua, backing away from the table, often chopping, often throwing up what looked to be nothing-ball retrieves, had a strange-stroke, change-of-pace, mix-‘em-up match with Brian Masters. Apparently Dua, waiting to loop the right ball, had more knotty strategy under his turban that I thought he had, for his game seemed more confusing to Masters than vice-versa, and he beat Brian, 19 in the 4th. (At one point, Brian served off, followed by almost shaking his head off.)
L.A.’s Kevin Choe rallied from down 2-0 to beat Sweden’s overrated Peter Gripler whose parents nevertheless—“It’s only a game, Peter, don’t be so self-critical”—certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.
And in one of the best punch and counter-punch matches of the tournament, 17-year-old Huei-chieh Huang, down 2-0 to Quang Bui, dramatically (-23, -11, 11, 11) reversed the action to get into the 5th. The secret of Huang’s fighting spirit? “At the Chinese Physical Training Center in southern Taiwan,” said one who smilingly knows such things, “young Huang and his cadre jog six miles a day and practice…boxing.”
Bui has the fast topspin serves, the all-out follows, the in-close blocks and counters to pile up points. But he also has trouble sustaining his waves of psychic energy. Comes a time, after relentlessly attacking, he retreats.
At 8-all in the 5th, Quang missed two of Huang’s serves and was down at the turn. But up 15-12, the Chinese served into the net on the fly, and when Bui unhesitatingly knocked Huang’s 15-14 serve for a loop, either fighter could win.
Down to the final bell it would go. Quang won a quick point on his serve, another with of all things an inspired push. Huang chanced in an almost unbelievable return of serve. Bui came right back with a fearless serve and follow, but then missed a whirling forehand. Huang served scared—as if with that last ball that just whizzed by, he’d almost lost his head—and Bui merely rolled it in for a winner. But now, up 19-17, Quang twice failed to return serve—the second time almost missing the ball entirely. Then he steadied, got a forehand in…and, ad up, would win? But again he couldn’t handle Huang’s serve—popped it up. And still again, down 21-20, he couldn’t return serve.
A tough one to lose—but Bui continued to play well. In the U-21’s he finished second ($100) to Eric Boggan ($200), along the way winning two fierce deuce-in-the-third matches. First, in the quarter’s against Sweden’s Christer Andersson, then in the semi’s against Chinese Taipei’s Tsung-min Hung.
Disastrous for Sean O’Neill had been Hung’s unexpected first-round insertion. But surprised too in that same first round was Brandon Olson. He’d been prepared to play Oklahoma chopper Brian Thomas when suddenly facing him was Huang the attacker—Huei-chieh Huang, the #2 Chinese Taipei player who in the International Team’s had beaten West Germany’s world-class threat to win the Men’s Singles, Engelbert Huging, 20, -11, 19.
But though Brandon lost 2-1, as did Sean, he let USTTA Executive Vice-President Gus Kennedy do the talking for him. Gus of course enjoys being personable to ALL the leaders, representatives, and players of ALL the official teams. At Registration he was a one-man Welcoming Committee as a long twisting line of foreign entries eager to be placed in SOME appropriate event waited if only to shake his hand. However, Gus was more than a little upset at Brandon’s early ouster. He made it less than amiably clear to Chinese-Taipei leader Lee that that gentleman ought to have a great deal of “respect” for Gus’s player Brandon, who having had no preparation time before facing so formidable an opponent nevertheless accepted his loss courteously and with great equanimity. As I say, Gus did the talking for Brandon.
How, Director Fox, someone dared to ask, could it happen that such seeded players would meet in the first round? “Well,” said Neal, “less than a week before the Open, with the draws all made, suddenly Bill Haid sends me entries—in varying age and class events—from seven different countries. So what could I do? All the draws had to be redone. And when you’re hurrying it’s easy to make mistakes.”
Neither Huang nor, strangely, the #1 Chinese-Taipei player, Wen-chia Wu, made it through the third round of the 21’s. Huang went down rather docilely to Masters, and Wu for some reason defaulted to Christer Andersson. Maybe in a goodwill effort to relieve some tension and show “respect,” Team Leader Lee spoke to these players? Or perhaps they just wanted to concentrate on winning the Men’s Singles?
The only U.S. players to get to the round of 16 were U.S. World Team members Eric Boggan, Danny and Ricky Seemiller, and Attila Malek. (Scott Boggan, the other perennial National Team member, had committed himself to his seasonal tree-spraying/tree-pruning job before going back in early August to train and play in Germany.)
Eric had to meet Attila here in the eighth’s and made quick work of him—was up 1-0 and 9-1 in the second. India’s Chandrasekhar Venugopal pip-confused then looped in winners against Peruvian #1 Walter Nathan. Wu, three years in a row Chinese Taipei National Champion, and at 18 already enjoying the reputation of always coming out #1 in National Team round robin play, beat fellow Taiwanese Chung-yong Chu, 17 in the 4th.
Domingo, of course in the U.S. for years, but from the Philippines, down 20-21 in the first to Kosanovic, got caught awkwardly trying to block one coming into his middle. It looked like Rey was holding the racket almost edgewise and the ball went through and smacked him right in the face. Losing the second at 19 was no less a finishing slap, and after that he couldn’t challenge. Dua had always wanted to come to Vegas but not to average 12 points a game against Danny Seemiller. Ricky likewise had an easy time with L.A.s Kevin Choe. And short-haired Huang had an up and down-14, 3, 19, 10 match with Hylton.
In this dull eighth’s, the real iffy contest, which in a moment I’ll get to, was the five-gamer between the West German Huging and the South Korean Tokyo World Team member Chang Hoon Lee.
Lee, with his heavy-spinning compatriot Sung Soo Jung, would go on to win the Men’s Doubles in a straight-game final over Kosanovic/Caetano, who’d advanced easily over Boggan/Huging. Earlier, however, against Masters and Bui in the first game of a quarter’s match that Lee and Jung would eventually win in the deciding 3rd, Lee hooked a ball that spinning away just missed the table—or so, despite Lee’s exclamation point to the umpire, both Brian and Brandon thought. Imagine their bewilderment then when on losing the next point they just stood there looking at the Koreans rounding the table. The umpire, it turned out, after some hesitation had upheld Lee’s directional forefinger and because Brian and Brendon were so sure the ball had missed they’d not heard, or it hadn’t registered with them, that he’d called the score 20-19 against them. Now—a big swing considering they were to win the second game—their protest was in vain.
Lee, a 22-year-old pips-out attacker, began taking too many sips of a drink to suit the very experienced Huging—but soon, upon a request, that was politely stopped. Through the first four games they battled—with Huging winning the first and stay-alive fourth (21, -12, -20, 19). “We Germans don’t always fight,” said Engelbert later—“but we do fight when we smell a victory. I knew if I could win that fifth game I could get to the final.” Ricky Seemiller, who was to play the winner, knew it too and was watching the match intently—prayerfully, you might say, considering his less than desirable record against choppers. Shaking hands after the quarter’s with a shakehander wasn’t part of his fantasy—give him a penholder-attacker anytime.
Back and forth in the fifth they went until shortly after the game’s midpoint the match turned to Huging.”You always need a technique to motivate yourself,” said Engelbert. “Against Lee as we approached the end game, I said to myself, ‘He’s too young. Too scared. He doesn’t know what fighting is yet. Show him!’” And as Engelbert had envisioned, so it became.
O.K., coming up, the quarter’s. Top half first. Alone, and without a mantra, was what Chandrasekhar ($200) must have felt, except for Shekhar Bhushan whose advice, or at least encouragement, he was asking somewhere in or out of his three quick games with Boggan. In an earlier match, John Allen had tried to go to Eric’s windshield-wiper switch point—but he could seldom if ever get a good angle so as to follow through with a smash. John might have been talking for Chandra when he said, “Eric just doesn’t make many mistakes. He didn’t try to force against me, I tried to force against him.”
Ex-Yugoslav now Canadian Champion “Zoki” Kosanovic had beaten Wen-chia Wu in the Team’s, 18 in the 3rd. But he got off to an almost self-destruct start (-14, -13) in his quarter’s match against the Chinese Taipei star. Wu played lots of pitty-pat short serves and serve returns around the net until he got a loose ball, then socked it in hard for a winner, then yelled. He yelled a lot.
In the third game, up 6-0, Wu looked invincible, while Kosanovic looked…well, not like the Defending Champion. But Zoki would not give up. The first break came for him when, down 19-17, he made a great point-winning block of an all-out Wu smash and then ran out the game.
But then in the fourth (“It makes me laugh” said Zoki—but he wasn’t even smiling—“I can’t get one single edge”), he disgustedly swiped away a give-up backhand and was down 8-2. But down 13-5 he still couldn’t bring himself to stop trying. (Later he was to say that because of a lack of training for this tournament he’d stood half a foot too far back from the table and as a result was hitting the ball on the bottom part of the racket much too close to the edge.) He moved to 10-15 and kept climbing. Down 16-14, Zoki couldn’t return serve, and it looked like maybe that would stop his comeback. But then—how explain it?—something dreadful must have happened in Wu’s head. He became unready to the point of paralysis, began weakly blocking. Again Kosanovic tried to help him to the win—down 18-17, he pushed Wu’s serve into the net. But then—strange—Zoki again ran out the game. Match tied 2-2.
In the 5th, Wu had continuing difficulty with Kosanovic’s high, spinny loops, but Zoki was still returning serve badly and getting hit hard on the follow. “If I could return serve, I’d beat him under 10,” he said to father-in-law George Jovanov at the turn. Down 15-12, Kosanovic again couldn’t return serve. But then he got lucky. Wu served and missed a knockout of a follow. And now Kosanovic was awarded a freak point when his errant shot intersected with Wu’s too-late-withdrawing racket in an absurd salute to Chance or Destiny. Woe is Wu.
Well, not just yet. But match-point up, Wu got a ball to win with and didn’t step in for the kill, so Zoki took advantage of the opportunity to flip in a marvelous backhand. Deuce. Then, looping Wu’s serve long, Kosanovic was again the underdog. But though Wu ($200) had an easy ball to finish with, he didn’t finish. And soon was finished himself.
Now the bottom-half quarter’s. As anticipated by all concerned, Huging had an easy three-game match against Ricky Seemiller ($200). Said Perry Schwartzberg, alluding to the Seemillers’ backyard practice venue, “Ricky’s got what I call the ‘Barn Syndrome.’” In other words, Perry says, Ricky’s used to playing as if he hasn’t any more room than in a chicken coop. Unconsciously he’s too anxious against a good defensive player like Huging. The ball always comes back too low for Ricky—the ball takes too long to get to him. “Ricky’s not a waiter,” said Perry.
Danny Seemiller in his match against Chinese Taipei’s Huei-chieh Huang ($200) showed much of the hustle, the skill that had won him the U.S. Closed last December. Down 19-14 in the first, Danny went on a roll that ended ironically when he got lucky, came up with two nets to tie it at 19-all. Perhaps Danny was too often back from the table mixing in too much chop against the Taiwanese’s fast stay-at-the-table style. But though he lost that first game to Huang, who was invariably crouched so low that Danny’s dead blocks didn’t seem to bother him (“I love that penholder nose-in-the-corner shot,” said one onlooker), Danny wasn’t about to lose the next two.
In the second game he began, as he said, taking a little spin off his serves and keeping them shorter. But at the start of the third he either forgot himself or was hoping to catch Huang by surprise, for he opened with a deep serve and got zipped. But then it didn’t matter that he’d been down 10-6, he was up 16-11—a 10-1 streak. After carelessly serving into the net at 19-14, Seemiller coasted to a 2-1 advantage.
In the fourth, Danny had built up a 17-12 lead. “Don’t you see what happens,” someone said, “when Danny gets back this guy’s real tough serve? The guy can’t handle that.” But then Danny failed to return two of these serves and Huang tied it up at 17-all….At 20-all, Danny in a lapse of concentration, served into the net. But now Huang didn’t seem to want to win. Despite getting the offense he never did go for the point-winner he needed to send the match into the fifth.
Why, regarding the top-half semi’s, Zoki wanted to know, were he, the Defending Champion, and Eric, the #1 seed, on the same side of the draw? Perhaps, though, since Boggan had gone untested—in his five matches thus far he’d allowed less than 150 points—and Kosanovic had been under great pressure from Wu, he, Zoki was more prepared to play the match than Eric?
Apparently not. For though Kosanovic made some strong winners in the first game, he was down 15-6…And in the second, from 4-all, he was down 14-6.
In the third game, though, Eric collapsed. And now Zoki was given an opening. In the fourth, up 11-10, Kosanovic moved in for a kill and scored. Or did he? The umpire said he moved the table. Kosanovic denied it. Eric, waving off the umpire, agreed to give up the point. (“Eric’s getting more mature,” said Zoki later. “The sportsmanship of American players is much better than I had heard,” said Coach Li Henan.) Applause. But up 13-10, Kosanovic ($300) was about to show his lack of form and Boggan the application of a force that he did not have this time last year. Eric won seven in a row and swung the match conclusively his way.
The remaining semi’s of course is between Danny Seemiller and Engelbert Huging. Readers know a great deal about Danny, but, though in an earlier volume (Vol. X, Chapter 27) I’d included a write-up of Huging (“great player, great person”) by his friend Scott Boggan, they know relatively little about Engelbert. So, before I go on, and since Huging will also figure prominently in the beginning of my next chapter, I want to give you a Profile of him now:
Engelbert Huging, sometimes slip-of-the tongue introduced quite incongruously as Engelbert Humperdinck, or, worse, when he came out to play in the final stages of the U.S. Open, as Huging Engelbert, is a 25-year-old West German veteran of the European table tennis wars. In appearance he’s straggly-haired and heavy bearded, or, no, the beard now gone after a half-dozen or more years, shaved off on an impulse last year during a table tennis tour of duty in South Yemen.
Engelbert first flashed an ironic smile for Germany when he came second among the (14 and under) Cadets in the 1972 European Championships. By 1975 he was representing his country in the Singles at the Calcutta World’s. Later, he would be playing for Germany in another World Championships at Pyongyang, North Korea.
In 1978 Huging became the German Men’s Singles Champion. In 1980 he was again a member of the National Team at the European Championships and this time Germany almost won—lost 5-4 in the final to Sweden. Engelbert got to the quarter’s of the Singles, losing in five to French superstar Jacques Secretin.
“Oh, Mr. Huging, you play so well. Could my friend and I have your autograph?”... “Could I have an old playing shirt of yours?” So the letters he’d receive, especially from the young, would read. At first he didn’t know how to answer them. “How do you follow the ball’s rotation?”…“Which serve do I use and when?”… “What kind of rubber is best for me?” But sentences, even paragraphs, came with kindness and practice.
And then, suddenly, Engelbert had played enough—he decided at 23 to quit the game. Why? He’s been asked that question so much, his answers keep changing. “Basically,” he says, “I couldn’t stand it anymore—hours and hours of practice each day. I was bored. I was lost. I wanted to develop myself—learn other things, see other things.”
So for the first time in his life he became a student—a real student. He began to study German history, German literature. His was a natural ironic voice—inherited from his father. “At the end of his life my father lay dying of cancer. He could hardly move—but he insisted on getting up to go to the bathroom. The dying, it was later explained to me, seem always to want to go one more time to the bathroom.
‘How’d it go, Mr. Huging?’ said the nurse cheerfully as the frail man managed to shuffle a return. ‘Oh,’ said my father with a faint smile, ‘I made a little air.’ Those were almost his last words—I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Engelbert, his father’s heir, now began reading an even greater ironist than the man once so close to him in that hospital room.
And then, in the midst of Thomas Mann—‘Mario and the Magician,’ it may have been—surprise, Engelbert began again to want to play table tennis.
And why was that?
“I missed the table tennis theater—the stage, the drama, the tenseness, the excitement, the competition of playing, and so I came back. Also, I began to understand that you could see things, new things, even in the little sphere of our table tennis world. It was a matter of not just looking but seeing.
I had so many reasons for quitting and coming back. But in the end none of them really meant very much—all could be reduced to one sentence, perhaps one word; distance. Now, although I’m that same intensely involved insider I was before, I’m also a dedicated outsider. I’m not as self-enclosed as I was. I have a better perspective of my importance, or unimportance, in the game. I’m not so self-critical. Also, I like to write about the sport now—I was at the Tokyo World’s just as a reporter.”
Again, in 1982, Engelbert played for Germany in the European Championships and again he got to the quarter’s before losing to Hungary’s Tibor Klampar. “I have the feeling,” he says, “that most Americans would be more impressed that I was German Champion than—what is more important to me—that I was twice in the quarter’s of the European’s.”
Meanwhile, ever since 1974 Engelbert, who is currently #48 in the world and #6 in Germany, has made his living playing in the Bundesliga. One season he could do no wrong—had the very best record in the ultra-strong First Division. This fall he’ll again play for his Simex Julich team, study Hemingway, and share his love of aphorisms and puns with his close friend and roommate Scott Boggan. (“Knowledge,” he says, as if applying Erich Fromm to the technology of table tennis, “is the destruction of deception—is disdeception.”)
As this last semi’s between Huging and Seemiller begins, many spectators have to think that perhaps there could be a great rematch final between Eric and Danny on these same courts that they’d played their deuce-in-the-fifth Closed on only six months ago. All it took now was for Danny to beat Huging before a home audience. Which, to begin with, did not look too difficult. On paper Danny was rated over 2600 and Engelbert 2480. (Never mind that just two years ago Huging was World #22, that was in another time and place.) The first game was a joke—Seemiller was up 8-3…12-4….As Danny would clobber one in, Engelbert, going back to pick it up, could only look wryly at the ball.
In the second game, Danny was up 9-6, then tied at 12-all, then had pulled away to 16-12. But then, perhaps because he’d secured what he’d unconsciously thought was a comfortable lead, Danny began looping slowly, and Engelbert, better able now to get set, and playing more to Danny’s forehand, scored seven in a row. Down 19-18, Danny held firm, moved to 19-all. Then—“YEAHHH!”—Engelbert got in a pick and roared. And Danny, as if intimidated, took a very bad shot. Match all even.
When Huging won the first point of the third game he let out another “YEAHHH!” Clearly, Seemiller, who’s usually the roaring animal, was going to have a fight on his hands. Up 6-4, Danny was soon down 8-6. Said one spectator, “When Seemiller loops hard into Huging’s pips, the ball comes back difficult to handle—heavy and so deep. It looks like it’s going off the table.” At 12-all, Engelbert missed a shot, bent over and screamed. But it was Danny who looked a little stricken. Up 16-14, Engelbert looped soft, then one-ball smacked in the return. “YEAHHH!” It seemed so disorienting to me to see not Danny but Danny’s opponent yelling. On winning the 19-14 point, Huging shouted, “That’s it!” It was a German speaking Seemiller- English.
Down 2-1 in games and 3-0 in the 4th, Danny needed some quick advice. “Seemiller’s really got to rip the ball when he can,” said the guy next to me, “otherwise Huging’s going to pick him to death.” Called another supporter, “Rev up the loop, Danny!”
Down 8-6, Danny missed a hanger. Down 9-8, he missed another. “Danny plays good serve and topspin,” someone said, “but he can’t smash.” 14-13 was as close as Seemiller could come in this deciding fourth. Although tactically few really extended offensive/defensive volleys were possible, since Huging was no mere passive defender but one always looking to score. The attack and defense variations and Huging’s theatrics (on losing the 14-12 point he was down on his knees) would have made a great TV match. After Huging ran the score to 18-13, Danny ($300) couldn’t recover. “Seemiller played him stupidly,” someone said to me after the match. “He should have moved Huging in and out, not laterally.”
Like Danny, only more sustainedly, Eric had a string of points against Engelbert. He ran out the first game from 16-all. Then, up 14-6…17-8 in the second, he was looping and dropping beautifully. (Tom Wintrich coined the phrase “Drop of Death” and, with a pun on DOA, dubbed it DOD.) In fact, for these two games, Boggan was playing perhaps the best table tennis of his career. Then, up 9-5 in the third, he suddenly took a very bad shot. But so what? Every player’s human, huh? Quickly catching Engelbert on more drops, and pummeling him with flat hits, Eric was again 11-7 comfortably ahead.
And then—as in his U.S. Closed match with Danny in December—Eric unaccountably lost six in a row. At 15-all he served into the net. Afterwards, as if stupefied, he passively refused to move, to take a single shot, until, down19-17, he got hold of himself and tied it up at 19-all. Then he missed a hanger (“That’s just what I kept doing,” said Danny) and finished by pushing one into the net.
Considering that the play in the third game was not at all spectacular, had Eric just grown careless? Or had he made some serious tactical errors? “You should buy a good camera and tape and study Eric’s matches,” Butterfly’s Dick Yamaoka had told me in Japan. But I wasn’t so sure. It seemed maybe a little too rational, too analytical for me. Eric’s always been a great intuitive player, with his own natural (or unnatural) style. Professional golfers were always studying their swing…were always having to.
In the 4th, Eric was down 6-0. It defied statistical reason. What had happened to his control? Was he punishing himself for losing that first six in a row by losing another six? Don’t panic, Tim. Maybe his head’s o.k. Weirdly, in a moment or two, it was 6-all…then16-all…Finally, Huging, up 20-18, 20-19, picked a backhand and it went in—a perfect placement. As Engelbert raised his arms in triumph, the crowd gave him—and Eric—an appreciative ovation.
At the start of the fifth, Eric might have heard Danny’s warning from the sidelines, “If you don’t beat Huging, he’s gonna beat you.” Crack! That was Eric’s firecracker forehand…followed by an exploding crosscourt backhand—then a jab that went in for a winner, a smash, followed by a staccato of forehands. That gave him a 7-3 lead.
But Huging would not be shaken—quickly climbed to 7-6. Up the slope of table tennis history they scrambled. Again Eric pulled away—to 17-14. Again Engelbert chased him—then caught, and as the finish loomed, surpassed him. The momentum was all Huging’s—moreover, six months ago, on this very court, Boggan had lost the Closed Championship to Seemiller from 19-16 up in the fifth. Now again he’d lost five straight points, was down 19-17. But Eric did not appear unnerved, kept his concentration, and, playing three good points, was a 21-19 winner?
No. For Huging did not play passively either. He rose to the occasion with a winning backhand flick. At 20-all, though, Engelbert ($400) risked a bravura forehand—which, as it happened, was a very bad shot selection, an absolutely horrendous pick. A minute or so later, after a suspenseful exchange, Engelbert’s last push fell short—and Eric ($600), falling, dancing, embracing, was our first U.S. Open Champion since Dal-joon Lee in ’73, and our first native-born Champion since Erwin Klein in 1965. [And so he still would be as I finish this volume in 2012.]