1983: Seemiller/Trenholme Take Eastern’s.
The Eastern Open, played Oct. 14-16 (a Steeler’s Home Weekend) at Pittsburgh’s Community College of Alleghany County, itself little more than a length-of-the-field from famed Three Rivers Stadium, was an all-Seemiller family affair.
Papa Ray and son Danny did almost all the organizational work, and found sponsors Nittaku and, thanks to Gary Egri, the VYNEX Corporation, makers of Vinyl Windows. Then, to pay for their Tournament Program, they hustled local barmen or storeowners. (“You can’t afford an ad?” said Ray. “Well, then, c’mon, take five tickets at two bucks apiece—help us out, and after the Game come and watch the best table tennis players in the U.S.”)
Talk about a fast talker, Sunday noon Ray commandeered the College parking lot, reserved it for all those coming to watch the matches. (“Where else could they be expected to park, right?) When, sure enough, carload after carload began showing up, it was easy for Ray to position himself halfway out in the street so as to direct driver after driver where to turn and enter—providing of course everybody in that driver’s car had bought a ticket to the table tennis matches. And with parking spaces in the area impossible to find, of course they’d all bought tickets. In the beginning, an occasional campus security man pointed out to Ray that, hey, these people were getting out of their cars, walking right by the college and going down the hill to the Stadium. Ray was, why, surprised. But what could he do? They’d bought tickets for the matches.
Anyway, when the hoped-for entries didn’t materialize you had to do something to make ends meet. The venue itself was $1,500; the barriers $400; the wrist watch and clock radio awards, never mind what those were; and how much could the Seemiller concession stand bring in? Just think of the franks, cokes, cookies, candy, and coffee consumed by the host family and their friends turned drawmakers, match-callers, result-sheet recorders, and prize money and merchandise awarders.
Since this was a three-star tournament, three days of play were mandatory. And with all the spaced-out time, it would have been nice if a special event had been held for South Park and Central Catholic Club Prez Stan Carrington’s High School League enthusiasts. The leisurely amount of time, the Seemillers’ good will, and the help they received from Carrington, Dave Lally, Gary Martin, Referee Bill Walk, and others did make for what one fellow said was “one of the best-run tournaments I’ve been to.” But m’god, AFTER the matches, it was quite impossible—even with the help of SPIN editor Tom Wintrich and Ratings Chair Dan Simon—to get a full set of results…though I think I’ve done pretty well here.
In the first round of the Open Singles, Brian Eisner, teeth and fist five-game a-clench, knocked out Mitch Rothfleisch of Montreal who speaks not only French but all kinds of English. (“Y’all lookin’ fuh Scott Boggan? Jes folluh thuh empty bear cans.”) Rothfleisch, like the rest of the-K-beck-ians, gets expenses, entry fees, airfare, ground transportation, hotel, and meals (or, in Mitch’s case, some meals)—but he is clearly individualized as the court jester of the contingent. Though losing in the final of the U-2300’s to Brandon Olson, Mitch himself left a trail behind him—the licked bones of Ben Nisbet, Bob Cordell, and Simon Shtofmakher. “Chow!” Mitch’d say on winning point after point in the Hall; “Chow!” he’d say on finishing mouthful after mouthful at the local Holiday Inn restaurant.
Rothfleisch really is a hugely irreverent figure. Have you ever seen him do his imitation of Eric Boggan doing his imitation of George Pardon and Adham Sharara? Or heard any of his jokes? (“What do you call someone who speaks three or four languages?” Multi-lingual, I said. “Yes, and two languages?” Bilingual, I said. “Yes, and one language?” Mono-lingual. “No,” said Mitchell. “An American.”
For a balancing sobriety you had to listen to Manitoba expatriate Derrick Black. Demonic Derrick, in Toronto working out daily with Ontario Provincial Coach “Zoki” Kosanovic, shows such improvement that in his first round of the Open he (6, -20, 15, -18, -11) might well have beaten Randy Seemiller three straight—especially since, ohh, in that deuce game he lost, he had three ads. Up 2-1 and 14-11 in the 4th, he had another good chance to win. “But,” he said, “I started tensing up. I’ve been practicing seven days a week and wanted a good win so much I wasn’t concentrating on the immediate moment and so just let my chances slip away.”
“You can play slow with Randy,” Derrick said, “whereas if you play slow with Brian Masters (whom Derrick lost to three straight in the U-21’s), he’s got such a good touch he’ll kill you. Forget about Randy’s anti. Only if he forehand topspins do you have to watch it. And since he forehand topspins cross-court you can be prepared for it.”
Black, who was formerly at the Ottawa Training Center, is trying hard to find his own often lonely path to success. He says he never did like team sports much—though, since his father played for the Rangers in the 1950’s (until both knees went), Derrick himself was on an organized hockey team when he was four years old. As he grew older he came to see table tennis as the most difficult, most fascinating of games.
The Bao Nguyen—Sean O’Neill first-round match doesn’t show up on any of the draw sheets, but it was fun to watch. Bao’s game, at the insistence of CTTA Chinese Coach Guoxi Su, has undergone something of a transformation. He’s trying to topspin with more spin now, as in his two losing but closely contested matches in other events against Brandon Olson, but occasionally he falls back into the habit of top-spinning too fast with little or no spin. Also, his backhand’s more forcing now—he’s not just tip-up blocking.
Sean, keeping his serve returns short and snapping his forehand, wasn’t overly pressed by lefty looper Bao, but they had some good points. Though, strange, the few spectators who were there didn’t seem to want to cheer or applaud, seemed in a different (detached) world from that of the serious-minded coaches—Brandon Olson for Sean; and Alain Bourbonnais, Paul Normandin, and Daniel Savaria for Bao. Does a Canadian, or at least a Quebecian, ever go ANYWHERE without a coach or confidant? Naturally I’ve wondered whether my son Eric, playing so many varied matches overseas as an individual, would do better, or worse, with someone always there in his corner.
Comes a disembodied voice” There he goes again, talking about one of his sons. And such a style he has. Did you hear the new joke? “Now the USTTA has an editor who can’t write, and a writer who can’t edit.”
On losing to Sean, Bao came off the table muttering about how he had to practice his backhand. But pretty soon he was chatting amiably with me, pointing out that “Tim” in Vietnamese means “heart.” Which prompted the irrepressible Rothfleisch to quip, “Un tournai sans Tim c’est un tournai sans coeur.” Bless Mitch—he understands me, he loves me.
Winners in the eighth’s in straight games were Danny Seemiller over Lance Driedel, Ricky Seemiller over Brian Eisner, Perry Schwartzberg over George Cameron, and B.K. Arunkumar over Yvan Dolan.
Although I won’t tell you how many flailed-away-at points Dolan got against Kumie, I will say that after Yvan beat me, -19, 20, 16, in the U-2300’s he continued playing close matches. In the 2300’s, he lost to Shtofmahker, 17, -19, -12. In the 2150’s he beat Ohio Champ Bob Cordell, then lost in the semi’s to friendly rival Stephane Charbonneau, deuce in the 3rd. Stephane then was beaten in the final by Bobby Powell, 19 in the 5th. Bobby himself lost two tough matches—to Olson in the 2300’s after being up 1-0 and 10-5; and in the Open to Canadian National Team member Bourbonnais, deuce in the 4th. “I don’t understand it,” said Bobby. “The guy misses my serves, misses my loops, and I end up losing the match.”
In another eighth’s match, Errol Caetano lost the first and should have lost the second to Olson if Brandon hadn’t pushed so much at the end. “If Brandon would go to live in Sweden or Germany,” said one observer, “he’d be the best young player the U.S. ever produced.” As it was, living in Minnesota, he lost to Caetano in four.
Brian Masters, helped along in the first from 19-15 down by a three-net rally, got the better of George Brathwaite, Senior Champ over Tim Boggan who’d won the Esquire’s from Bob Brickell. The Chief said, win or lose, his Derek Wall racket has “the most perfect handle I’ve ever come across.” (On hearing this, Derek sent him a dozen?)
The best match in the eighth’s saw Randy Seemiller beat Sean O’Neill, 19 in the 4th. “Sometimes I get hot,” said Randy. “Generally I play better against better players. Though Randy had recently been losing to Sean, he did beat him at the Pan Am Trials, and now, since he wasn’t going to school this term (was waiting to be accepted as a junior at the University of Pittsburgh), he’d been playing more.
With games tied at 1-1 and Seemiller up 11-10 in the 3rd, O’Neill looked like he might swing the match his way, for Randy failed to smash in Sean’s lob, then watched helplessly as Sean got an edge. But from 12-11 up, O’Neill lost six in a row, the last on a very dispirited forehand, to go 17-12 down. Randy then continued to play on-the-run aggressively, and was ahead 2-1 at the break. Sean started the fourth up 4-0, as if he’d been given a pep talk, but Randy caught him at 11-all. They traded off until the end game where Sean couldn’t hold the lead, largely because of his atrocious handling of Randy’s serves, particularly deep serves. This was a very disappointing swing match for Sean, since it kept him out of the quarter’s and perhaps even the final round robin.
It was of course no consolation to Sean that he won the Boys U-17 from Canada’s Pierre Parulekar, who earlier had been beaten in the U-2000’s by Billy Lipton, the U-15 winner over Nimit Bansal. Capturing the U-2000’s was Mike Joelson who first did in Timmy (“Jumbo” ) Seemiller (the U-1850 winner over Chip Coulter), then Canada’s Vaibhav Kamble (who’d upset Ben Nisbet), and finally runner-up Larry Hodges. Larry had strong wins of his own—over Takako Trenholme, deuce in the deciding 3rd, then Gary (“Garbage”) Martin in five.
Other class winners were: U-1700’s: Tim Kwan over John Kwan who’d advanced over Gunther Schroeder, 19 in the 4th. U-1550’s: J. Brody over Barry Rodgers, 17 in the 5th. U-1400’s: Greg Chamish over Ron Lutz. U-1200’s: Chamish over E. Coustry. B Doubles: Peter Johnson/V. Kamble over Bill and Dan Walk. C Doubles: Dick Ruppe/Bob Allshouse over Keith Minnich/Tony Yurko.
Takako Trenholme won the Women’s Singles from Alice Green who’d advanced to the final over CNE Champion Kalavathi Panda. Kalavathi had swung her playing hand into the table edge against Alice and the shock of it continued to reverberate from knuckle to elbow. Alice’s life suddenly has been filled with change in that she and Michael Kimble are planning a summer wedding and maybe a honeymoon in Europe. Also, she’s no longer at the Dalton School but at Fantis in Brooklyn—teaching American History and Literature to 7th and 8th graders. (“He had a dream,” said Huck of Tom, “and it shot him.”)
Against Takako, after Green appeared somewhat paralyzed in the first, her longtime friend Shazzi Felstein advised Alice to go back to basics—“Move your feet, watch the ball.” But though, as Shazzi said, “Alice knows how to dig in,” it was Trenholme who kept pushing every ball to Green’s backhand and who refused to open a point. Finally Alice, a counter-player, too often began to force (“Patience, Alice,” Shazzi shouted) and Takako scored a surprisingly easy win.
Shazzi, herself just recently married (“Same name, same address,” she said and laughed), was beaten in the semi’s of the Women’s A’s by Ai-ju Wu who then lost, 16 in the 4th, to Louise Laroche, 19 in the 3rd winner in her semi’s over fellow Canadian Diane Bourdages. In the U-1850 quarter’s, Ai-ju had lost a 23-21 in the 3rd killer to the eventual winner Timmy Seemiller.
Janine Schroeder, U-17 Girls winner over Jenny Slootskin, didn’t play in either Women’s event, nor did Svetlana Shtofmahker, often busy chasing Jason Caetano and vice versa.
The Open quarter’s matches were divided into two four-man round robin matches. In the “A” Group were Danny Seemiller, Brian Masters, Perry Schwartzberg, and Alain Bourbonnais. In the “B” Group, B.K. Arunkumar, Errol Caetano, and Ricky and Randy Seemiller. When the matches began, it was assumed that the #1 player from the “A” Group would play the #2 player in the “B” Group and vice-versa in crossover matches so as to set up the semi’s and a final. But as play progressed—surprise—some modification was thought necessary.
The first “A” Group match was between Danny and Perry—and, whatever the reason, whether it was because Perry so knew his opponent’s game or because after all his promotion and overseeing of the tournament Danny was finding it difficult to concentrate, he soon found himself down 2-0 in games. Of course he’d been having problems this season, beginning with Pintea and Caetano at the CNE. But he’d almost always squirmed away a winner—had lost just that one Indiana tournament to Ricky.
“No way you can keep your emotional level, your bio-rhythms up all the time,” said Danny. “Take Jimmy Connors—he won the Open, then the next week in Houston he lost to Sandy Meyers. Sometimes I want to play well, and sometimes I just wanna win and don’t care how I play.” Well, maybe he’d better care now, huh?
The fact that Schwartzberg, in Samurai head-band, led 2-0 was all the more unexpected when you considered that he’d switched to a new though not unique grip (one favored internationally by the Czech Dvoracek and locally by the “The Babe,” a.k.a. Ron Luth). This was the so-called “Hammer” grip, in which all the fingers are wrapped around the blade. “You don’t have as much control of the racket, don’t have as much feel,” said Perry, “but the ball never hits your finger, your wrist is freed, and you can spin better.”
So how did this Schwartzberg-Seemiller match turn out? Would Danny come from behind as he so often has?
In a later article (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 28), Perry gives us some thoughts he had regarding this match against Danny. Here’s something of what he had to say:
“‘Dedicate that 21st point against Danny to me, O.K., Perry?’ dictated Pam Simon, daughter of Ratings Chair Dan Simon and a very close personal friend of mine. ‘Oh sure,’ I replied. ‘After I lose the first two games 9 and 9, I’ll dedicate the 3rd point of the 3rd game to you. No sweat.’ We both laughed. ‘Oh, Perry, at least think positive and win a game,’ pleaded Pam’s good friend Noreen Haggerty. ‘OK., I’ll do my best,’ I replied.
Perry hadn’t played in a big tournament in the U.S. for months and felt a little rusty. He says he’d gone to “a slower Stiga all-around racket with Mark V maximum on my backhand and ultra-spinny, super-control, gold Tornado on my forehand.” And of course he’d only recently changed to the “hammer” grip. Never before had he beaten Danny in a tournament match.
But seeing Danny play tentatively at the beginning prompts Perry to be the aggressor, and on winning the first game comfortably, he looks over at Pam and smiles.
“In the second game, Danny is again tentative—missing shots he normally makes, holding back on the power, allowing me to move him from side to side…. Now Danny begins talking to himself, ‘Come on, you’ve got to move faster and stop playing like a puss.’…I continue to say nothing…..Again I play aggressively, keep hustling, refuse to let up on my concentration. ‘Let’s go, Dan!’ his father yells from the stands….Second game goes my way too.”
In the third game, “Danny is fighting harder, taking the game very seriously. He’s working now, making sure of his shots, no longer missing as he had been….Third game to the champ.” And the fourth? “Danny really wants it. The shots are coming at me from all over, and I have no reply to the barrage.” In the fifth, “I just can’t win the points—am down 15-7. ‘Well,’ I say to myself, ‘give it at least a strong show to the end so people won’t call you a quitter.’” A long point they play until Perry counters in a backhand “for an untouched winner!” He takes the next two points too—thinks, “Well, at least I’m not giving up. I just can’t give up….Then at 11-15 comes the big break. Dan fails to return serve and yells to himself, ‘You’ve still got to win it!’ ‘Yeah,’ I think, ‘he’s still got to win it.’”
‘Now Danny proceeds to get tight, maybe a little fatigued, and misses my next two high –toss serves.” Soon it’s 15-all! Then 17-15—Schwartzberg’s won 10 straight! Then it’s 20-17 triple match point for Perry. “I feel good,” he thinks, “real good. No, I’m not gonna choke it away. I’ve got three chances to do it, and, yeah, I’m gonna do it!” It doesn’t take three tries, only one. “I walk around, shake Danny’s outstretched hand and he says, ‘Good match.’ I shake the ump’s hand, go over and give Pam a victory kiss, and then let out a ‘Finally!’”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s Masters, who’d lost his ride to Pittsburgh at the last minute and would have to take a bus through the night, was having no trouble in his first Open round robin match with Bourbonnais. “I have a cold,” said Alain—that’s why he was wearing the collar of his playing shirt up ala Count Dracula?
Later, however, in the semi’s of the U-21’s, he was (“Yaahh! Yaahh!”) bat-fanged yelling at Brian. Trying to intimidate his opponent, was he? Or just get confidence himself? Said one aficionado, “If a player thinks he can psyche out an opponent, he’s gotta think he can get psyched himself.” Whatever. Alain, quickly picking up the ball on the bounce, won the first and third to go up 2-1. Schwartzberg, coaching Brian at the break, urged him to stay up at the table and jab away at Alain’s middle. Brian dutifully did whatever it is he does and was up 11-6. Then he did whatever it is he does and the score was 11-10. Up 18-16, Bourbonnais, looping maybe a dozen balls moderately, finally lost the point. But his steadiness prompted one spectator to yell to Brian, “Don’t let him control you!” Silly fellow—who can control Brian?
At 19-all, close to victory, Bourbonnais mis-hit not one but two balls—which forced the match on into the fifth. “Move your serve around!” somebody was yelling at Brian. But the screamer might better have suggested that Brian move more quickly back into the ready position. Still, from the mid-game on, it was all Masters—as it was in the final of these U-21’s against O’Neill.
In the second round of the “A” Group round robin, it was Danny against Brian. And of course if Danny lost—unthinkable—he wouldn’t even be playing on Sunday. How embarrassing in front of all those spectators—TV spectators.
In the first game, Danny, up 16-12, again faltered, had some trouble with Brian’s slow loop, and it was 17-all. Then after Danny pulled away to game point, Brian chased him to 19 but could chase no further. Having lost that first game, Masters bent over and (Knock, knock, who’s there?) thudded his head several times on the table top.
Coach Sean O’Neill, with scribbled-on pad and pen, spoke to Brian—pointed out that Danny missed seven of Brian’s high-toss serves that last game. Perhaps if Brian did more of the same with an occasional anti high-toss….Perhaps, too, if he tried to loop down Danny’s forehand then punched a return....Perhaps more anti blocks off the bounce….More serve returns wide to the forehand. Next thing you knew, Brian was up 14-8 and soon the match was all even.
In the third, Danny was often passively blocking Brian’s slow loop, was down 9-5…when, oh, oh, what was happening? Mad King Lear—or rather his foster son—had just given himself the two-fingered eye gouge and it was 9-all. But then it was Danny’s turn to wail and storm: “Every time, you put it to the wrong side! Think a little bit!”
Sean, meanwhile, was doing finger exercises? No. This particular “wiggle” meant Brian was supposed to give Danny the high-toss serve.
“I can’t flippin’ play!” screamed Brian down 15-13. Then behind 18-16 and as if he and his audience should be on Candid Camera with host Allen Funt, he yelled out, Oh, you….” Which just about brought Ray Seemiller up off his seat and out onto the court. “Watch your language!” he said sotto voce, almost as if he were too embarrassed to acknowledge what he’d heard.
“Oh, you fish!” shouted Danny no longer comfortably ahead at 20-16. In a minute, in fact, no longer ahead. Brian served at deuce, eventually got Danny on a slow loop. But Danny stayed alive with a serve and follow. Again, though, Brian got the ad, attacked Danny’s serve and fast-block aced him to take a 2-1 lead. Maybe tomorrow Danny’s bio-rhythms would be better? That is, if he were still in contention tomorrow. Now he was within one quick game of not making the semi’s.
But in the fourth Danny was up 6-1…then 16-1. Yeah. Sean or anyone else could save his wiggly finger. Brian quickly gave up the last points like a gentleman. This game was lost—no sense Danny getting used to his anti, eh?
In the fifth, Brian again was down…down…down. At match point I heard Ray Seemiller yell, “Don’t let up, Danny. Offense!” These fathers are really something. And what did Danny have to say on winning this match? “I was playing too safe and not using good tactics.” And Masters? Actually, I sent Ray over to interview Brian, but he never got back with what Brian said.
In his second round, Schwartzberg, up 2-0, was suddenly having a problem or two with Bourbonnais. Coach Su had changed all of Alain’s strokes, had urged him to improve his technique. “I used to push serves,” he said. “Now, forehand or backhand, I topspin them. Everything’s been adjusted to my new up-at-the-table topspin game.” Alain, who’ll be 21 this December, is taking three courses a semester at the University of Montreal. He plays t.t. six times a week, coaches twice a week.
Against Schwartzberg, Boubonnais started slow. “I didn’t jump on the ball,” he said. “didn’t get excited until the third game.” As Alain began getting a little hyper, Perry was forced back point after point and forced to lob returns. That was NOT the way to win—as Perry, down 12-6 in the fourth, was fast discovering. The fifth game, though, was a zinger. Did I say Alain was getting a little hyper? Down 14-13, the Frenchman—I mean the Canadian—yelled “Aaahhhhhhh!” jumped up and down, then went over and smacked down the railing. But Perry, unshaken, held on to his two-point advantage till the end.
So at this point, with one round to go, the standings were: Perry, 2-0 (6-4); Brian, 1-1 (5-3); Danny, 1-1 (5-5); Alain, 0-2 (2-6). It was quite clear that if Danny gave up no more than a game to Bourbonnais and Brian beat Perry, even in five, the tie-breaker put Perry out. Wild, huh? Of course if Perry beat Brian, Brian was automatically out.
After winning the first, Danny did lose the second game to Alain—but stayed in total control the third. Then, though playing horribly in the fourth—he was down 9-5—he did rally to bring home the match rather easily.
Brian, up 2-1, had his opportunity in the fourth—but it was Perry who ran out the game from 18-17. In the fifth, Perry got off to a lead, increased it, and Brian literally gave up. Sometimes there was a point to playing, sometimes not? Like sometimes he plays basketball (or tackle football) for days on end, and sometimes he doesn’t play for months. Never mind. Who can predict Brian’s behavior?
In the “B” Group, Errol Caetano, as if mindful of his “EC-1 Yours to Discover” license plate, was of course hopeful of immediately putting himself into contention with a win over Arunkumar. But since Derek Wall had stopped playing, Errol had no chopper to practice with. It never did seem to register with Caetano that it was much better to spin into Kumar’s backhand pips than his smooth sponge forehand side where he could vary the spin. In the third, Caetano, up 5-0, lost it at 10. Match three straight to Kumar.
The Ricky vs. Randy match found Ricky in the unexpected and certainly unenviable position of being down 2-1 and 6-1 in the 4th. Perhaps for a heady moment Randy in his “Brasil” shirt fancied he was back at the Pan Am Games not watching but playing a gold medal match? Perhaps. But Ricky caught him at 15-all and forced play into the 5th. There, just before the turn, the point they played foretold the outcome—Randy lost it, and, exasperated, threw his racket quite un-victory-like into the air.
Against Kumar, Randy lost the first badly, but in the second, down 19-18, he played a beautiful long rally before dumping a drop into the net. Then, down 20-18, he topped one off. Behind 18-16 in the third, Randy again threw his racket high into the air—but this time he wasn’t finished, kept at it, and staved off defeat until the fourth.
At the beginning of his match with Ricky, Caetano examined the ball then popped it into his mouth. This links-like ball-washer effect wasn’t disconcerting to Ricky—but blowing five straight from a 19-16 lead in the second was. Match all even. In the third, Errol killed his late-game chances by first carelessly serving long into Ricky’s at-the-ready loop, and then, even more carelessly, by serving into the net.
But in the fourth, Ricky returned the end-game favor, made errors, seemed unable to serve the ball short, and, down 20-19, watched in disbelief as the ball took maybe the worst skid I’ve ever seen. In the fifth, though, it was Errol who slid downhill. Throughout the match, he was to say later, he couldn’t get the ball to hit the center of the racket. Down 9-2 he deadpanned, “Want to take over, Tim”? I didn’t, but I couldn’t have done any worse. Still, in Open Doubles, before losing to Danny and Ricky, Errol and Randy did o.k.—downed Brian and Perry in four.
The Kumar-Ricky match, both undefeated at 2-0, now presented a problem—unless of course the Seemiller Tournament Committee agreed to play not single elimination crossover matches but a carryover semifinal round robin. For otherwise the Kumar-Ricky winner would have to play Danny, #2 in the “A” Group, in a crossover match. Since presumably there would be no profit in that, both Kumar and Ricky quite intelligently but also quite ridiculously would be trying to lose this match.
“O.K., O.K.” agreed Danny. “I’ll take my carryover loss into a final round robin. You, Ricky, play to win.”
Against Kumie, Ricky said he didn’t miss any no-spin balls because of his new hooked-wrist movement. “It lets me change the angle—go crosscourt instead of always down the line—and gives me control and power. Like Danny I’d been hitting INSIDE the ball all the time. My best point-winner had been a gunshot down the line. Now, by bending my wrist more and letting my arm do most of the work, I can hit OUTSIDE the ball and serve crosscourt.”
But although Ricky won the third from Kumar by looping the short ball hard, in the fourth the ex-Indian National began returning the ball longer and longer, deep to the white line, and as Ugh! Ugh! Ricky kept looping and looping and Ugh! Ugh! grunting and grunting, he gradually got tired and made costly mistakes. “That Kumar’s a beast,” he said later.
In the one crossover semi’s, it was Perry, playing still another five-gamer, vs. Ricky. But this time, down 10-2 in the fifth, The Berg couldn’t recover and finished by serving into the table edge.
In the other semi’s, it was Arun and Danny. Kumar would have preferred that Ricky play Danny first, especially since there was obviously going to be a tie-breaker involved in determining a winner. But wouldn’t a Danny-Ricky “final” appeal much more to those loyal Pittsburgh fans? The best Kumie could do was challenge in the third. Down 20-19 match point, he served and followed. Deuce. But then, forced back from the table, lobbing Danny’s rolls, Kumar couldn’t sustain his defense—ad to Seemiller. Again, though, Arun rose to Rightness with a perfect pick. After which, Danny missed two forehands and Kumie for one more game, but only one, was still in contention.
With only the last round remaining, who was likely to win? Danny was 1-1 (5-4); Kumar was 1-1 (4-4); Perry was 1-1 (5-3); Ricky was 1-1 (4-5). Obviously, there had to be a two-way tie—but Kumar didn’t know that the USTTA had recently adopted the ITTF rule that ties were broken by how those tied did against each other head to head. In other words, if Danny and Kumar both won and ended with a 2-1 record, Danny would win, for he’d beaten Kumar. If Danny and Perry won, Perry would win the tournament, for he’d beaten Danny. If Ricky and Perry won, Ricky would win the tournament. If Ricky and Kumar won, Kumar would win the tournament. Theoretically then, to the theoretical spectators’ confusion, any one of four players could still win the tournament.
Kumar did the best he could by beating Perry three straight—just holding on in the second from 19-14 up when Perry, down 19-18, missed a forehand that he should have made, and when, up 20-19, Kumar took a chance and got one in down the line. From Kumie’s point of view, then, not realizing the new rule, he thought his record was 2-1 (7-4) and unless Danny beat Ricky three straight he, Kumar, would be the winner.
Danny did not beat Ricky three straight—but then he knew he didn’t have to…just so he won. After taking the first game, Danny interrupted the second game to tell some local players a few empty tables down that they couldn’t practice. Ricky, who of course couldn’t win the $500 first prize because he’d lost to Kumar, played on—won the third. Second prize, after all, was $300—$100 more than third.
But TV or no TV, Danny finished strong—was up 10-1 in the 4th…16-4…21-5. “Oosha!” he said, as Ricky, leaving the court with bent wrist, smacked down a barrier and kept right on walking.