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History of USA Table Tennis Volume 12

CHAPTER THIRTY

            1983: U.S. Closed—Overview, Women’s/Girls’, Age, Class, Juniors’/Boys’ Results.

            At the 430-entry, 52-event Tropicana U.S. Closed in Las Vegas over the long Dec. 14-18 weekend, Defending Champions Danny Seemiller ($1200) and Insook Bhushan ($800) again won the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Singles Championship, each for the fifth time.

            Danny and Insook ($200) also teamed together to win the Mixed Doubles from  Ricky Seemiller/Sheila O’Dougherty ($100) who’d -16, 19, 15 squeaked out a semi’s win over Brian Masters/Diana Gee.  The Seemiller brothers ($200) won their eighth straight Men’s Doubles Championship—downing the Boggan brothers, Scott and Eric ($100). The five-entry Women’s Doubles went to Insook and her Pan Am Gold Medal partner Diana ($200) over Sheila and Judy Hoarfrost ($100) two straight (though being down 20-18 in the second game).

            This year’s Tournament Directors Dennis Masters and Dan Simon, following the new USTTA U.S. Team Selection policy as described by Selection Committee Chair Bill Walk (SPIN, Dec., 1983, 16), incorporated the heretofore separate Team Trials (involving three extra days of competition) into the Men’s and Women’s Singles events….”Note that it’s likely that players selected to represent the U.S. in international events will be from the order of finish in the final round robin Team Trials, but this is NOT guaranteed….For competitions where we send five players, THREE will be chosen from the order of finish, while TWO will be picked by the Selection Committee. [Slightly different modifications will apply to four, three, and two-player teams.]”

            The rationale for this format change was to allow everyone—the USTTA, the players and staff involved— to save time and money. Thus in the Men’s the top 12 seeded players did not play at all until 12 other players had come through two round robins—whereupon a third round robin was played to bring about a fourth and final Top 12 round robin from which a U.S. Champion and his teammates would emerge. Thus to win his title this year Danny played a total of—what was certainly unprecedented in the 50-year history of the USTTA and for all I know in the weekend history of Association Championships all over the world—14 (2/3 game) matches.

            Finishing second in the 93-player Men’s Singles, as he has now for the last four years, was this summer’s U.S. Open winner, Eric Boggan, World #18 ($900). Finishing second in the 23-player Women’s Singles was Alice Green ($450), who, 15 years ago, had represented the U.S. at the Munich World’s.

            Given this year’s new format, players who merit mandatory consideration (because of their fine play and the Selection Committee’s new sure-to-be-controversial option of possibly picking some Team members and rejecting others) are Under 17 Boys Champ Sean O’Neill and Under 17 Girls Champ Diana Gee (Winners get $100 Room Credit at the Tropicana).

            Sean also won the Men’s National Amateur from runner-up Perry Schwartzberg, while Sheila O’Dougherty won the Women’s National Amateur from Takako Trenholme (Winners get $100, runner-ups $50 Room Credit).

            Considering the hundreds upon hundreds of matches played, there was scarcely a disturbing incident to say “Ahem” and clear one’s throat over—and certainly none that, Ahem, an increasingly understanding National Tournament Director Andy Gad or his Referees and Umpires, headed by Harold Kopper, Bob Partridge, and Lyle Thiem, had any difficulty with.

            Physical Operations and Registration Director Dick Evans and Director of Operations “Grand Rapids Tom” McEvoy, backed by literally a score of conscientious workers, showed again and again a winning hand in finally getting all the matches successfully over and done with.

            Media coverage? Well, right from the beginning Publicity Director Jim Hunter tried to let everyone know there was a tournament going on at the Tropicana. He arranged a publicist’s ‘kick-off” and—What’s that? You don’t have a paddle! Ah, the City Parks and Recreation Department to the rescue. Here, take this sandpaper one and go play. It won’t take long. We’re just trying to push the sport a little, you know.

             Doubtless the fact that this U.S. Closed drew fully 60% of its entries from only four states (200 entries from California alone), and that such pockets as the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area accounted for only 25 entries, and the Kentucky-Ohio-Indiana-Michigan area only 14 entries, is something to strongly consider when the USTTA thinks about repeatedly holding both our U.S. Open and U.S. Closed in Vegas.

Also to be considered, as Stan Robens has pointed out (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 4), is the fact that the off-the-street price for a room at the Tropicana (single or double occupancy) is $18. So why then is the hotel charging the USTTA players an outrageous $42.80 per room? “Supposedly the Tropicana is putting up the near-$15,000 prize money. But are they really? Or are all those playing in the tournament providing the prize money?” Stan wants the USTTA E.C. to bring us back to Caesars Palace.

             As for Vegas show-time spectators, well there weren’t exactly people standing in line to see any big name T.T. stars. But even if there were, such spectators would have found it difficult if not impossible to FOCUS their attention on any single area of action (“I have not been asked to stage a CLASS event,” said Dick Evans.)

            Perhaps we need a big divider-curtain that would separate, say, six courts from the other 44 (or, oh, oh, now only 34?); and on-court signposts to tell everyone who was playing and for what; and a big golf-tournament-like scoreboard that would dramatize the importance of and the progress of the key matches in the key events. The problem of TV or not TV, of whether our participatory sport can also become a spectator sport, is continually ignored with the predictable, “Hey, look, man, we’ve got to get all these matches played.”

            I will say, though, that the player-spectators liked the many exciting matches that the new four-round-robins brought. But whether the fact that everybody played everyone else in the Final 12 was a fairer way of deciding the Men’s Singles winner than a single-elimination event is highly debatable. One defect is that it penalizes the inspired bravura player, the maximum risk for maximum profit attacking player. Four or maybe five tough matches in a row the exciting high-risk player, playing his natural forcing game, can win, possibly 8 or 9 out of 11 IF he can repeatedly go full strength for so long. But in this format if he has more than one loss he won’t be the Champion. Another defect is that the format does not guarantee—far from it—that your opponent is psychically at full strength as he is apt to be in a single-elimination format. Indeed, despite the $50-a-match prize-money incentive, some players when it’s apparent they’re vying for positions 6 through 12 just cannot care as much as they did before, hence much may depend on when players compete—there’s no constant in this format for fairness. But of course everyone playing understands this.

Women’s/Girls’ Matches

            The only real shocker in Women’s Singles Preliminary play (four Round Robins of six players, from each of which two players would advance to form an everyone-plays-everyone-else Top Eight Final Round Robin) was Diana Gee’s failure to qualify. She wasn’t in the match with Sheila O’Dougherty. But what really killed her was her 14, -20, -19 loss to Vicky Wong, Under 15 Girls runner-up to Lan Vuong. Vicky, who, according to one qualifier, “has the hardest hit of any of the women,” was the youngest player in the Women’s field, since for whatever reason Under 13 Girls winner Stephanie Fox and runner-up Janine Schroeder, content to have won the 13 Doubles over Scott Assorsen/Howard Nirken, were sitting out this Singles. The Gee sisters took both the 15 and 17 Girls Doubles—the 15’s over Stephanie and Janine, the 17’s over Vicky and Jasmine Wang.

            Of course for some time Vicky has been helped at the New York Chinatown Club by Rey Domingo, but, said her father Doon, U-2000 Senior Champ over Gus Kennedy, “She has a mind of her own, she coaches herself.” This was Vicky’s best tournament ever—she also beat Diana in the Girls Under 15, and Lisa Gee in the Girls Under 17 before losing to Lan. No, Vicky doesn’t like her father or sometime coach Rey to watch her matches. “Do you watch?” I asked Doon. “From a distance,” he said with a smile.

            Olga Soltesz had a chance to qualify in this Group, for, though she lost to Sheila, she beat Vicky, as did Sheila. But Soltesz also lost to the former Thai player now Texas-based Pigool “Peggy” Kulcharnpises (soon to become Rosen). That meant the match Olga had to have to qualify she 20, 19 lost to Diana. But if Diana’s destiny was not to qualify for the Women’s, it was also to five-game win the Girls Under 17 from Lan. Maybe the advantage as to who was positionally gonna score first with her forehand went finally to Diana—perhaps because too often Lan kept the ball too much to the middle and was herself too far back from the table?

            In her Women’s Preliminary Round Robin Group, Vuong, who’d been doing side-to-side footwork exercises and back and forth shadow play in preparation for this tournament, went undefeated—scored a particularly big win by hitting through a slow-starting Alice Green, the #2 qualifier.

            The Women’s Over 40 winner Patti Hodgins and runner-up Yvonne Kronlage, who took a game from Carol Davidson in the Women’s Amateur, didn’t try to qualify for the Women’s Singles, but the indomitable Marjory Willcox did. In the Over 70’s, won by Chinese expatriate Wing Lock Koon over Ulpiano Santo, feisty Marjory, on taking the first game, soon had Koon questioning the lock he thought he had. The Under 1200 Women’s went to Sheila Weissberg over Milli Drake. The Under 1500 Women’s to Stefanie Fox over Keri Herman, 20, 10, 21. The Under 1800 Women’s to Niloufer “Neena” Nordby with Toni Gresham besting her mother Liz for the runner-up spot.

            Both Carol Davidson and Takako Trenholme, Women’s Under 2000 winner ($100) over Judy Hoarfrost ($50) deuce in the fourth, advanced from their preliminary play—with Carol just being able to vary her game enough to get by Takako, 18 in the third.

            In the Women’s Amateur, however, Takako would inflict straight-game revenge. There she would again roll and drop, and when Carol didn’t apply enough forehand pressure, Takako kept moving the ball all around the table until she could open with a backhand and follow with a forehand or, if need be, a series of forehands. “Takako never rushed, was very patient,” said one observer. She “crafted her win.”

            It wasn’t Ardith Lonnon’s tournament. In Preliminary play, she lost to both Carol and Takako. And earlier, in the opening-day B-Group Team’s, won by Sacramento T.T. World’s Tait Anderson/James Therriault over Bill Yang/Steve Betts, Ardith and brother Gene had been 20-13 up in the doubles when, ohhh, they somehow lost that game 24-22, the match, and the tie, 3-2.

            In the Bhushan Preliminary Group, Lisa Gee came through as the second qualifier when she beat Judy Hoarfrost who’d lost to Kim Gilbert, in turn a loser to Shazzi Felstein.

            Neither Lisa nor sister Diana entered the Women’s Amateur, but Judy had a nice three-game win over Alice in that event, rallying from 13-7 down in the third. “I watched Judy play,” said one of our internationalists. “She has very good technique. Nothing against the winner O’Dougherty, but Judy has a fine, aggressive man’s hand-smash game.” And hasn’t another of our internationalists said that when HE plays Mixed Doubles, the first thing he tells his partner is “Push every ball”—except, he says, “I don’t say that to Judy ‘cause she hits better than I do.”

            Women’s Amateur winner Sheila was called by one macho supporter, “A strong lady. It takes a lot of strength to loop as much as she does.” Of her Amateur final with Takako, Sheila, who was indeed looping well, had this to say, “It was the best match we’ve ever had. Takako’s got to agree. I’m being very objective. I got killed the first game—but I kept trying to attack and I was successful. Takako got 90% of her hits in, but because I know her game so well—as of course she knows mine—she just didn’t get the ball through me.”

            Or was the objective-minded Sheila talking about her OTHER match with Takako—the one everybody else was talking about, the one in the Top 8 Round Robin that went 36-34 in the third? Maybe THAT, though it wasn’t for a National title like the Women’s Amateur, was the best match she and Takako had ever played? There, too, Sheila got killed the first game, and then, looping well with both forehand and backhand, prevailed for a win. But not before Zhazzi Felstein said umpire Manny Moskowitz began to laugh. Why? Because, though neither player had been pushing, the Expedite Rule was called at 31-all in the third.”First time I ever played Expedite in my life,” said the strong lady looper.

            But though O’Dougherty was able to topspin down defensive star Carol Davidson (“Carol spends a lot of time on the floor, doesn’t she?” said one onlooker), neither she, Sheila (6th place--$250), nor Takako (7th place--$225) could beat anybody else other than fearless 14-year-old Vicky Wong, who, though finishing 8th ($200) without a win, still managed 21-point games against five of her seven opponents.

            Sheila fought tenaciously against Vuong after losing the first at 19 and being 20-18 double-match-point down in the second. Shazzi said Sheila “mishandled three service returns,” but then made two excellent forehand returns of serve to deuce it, then served and (head down, eye on the ball) followed for the point. But Vuong served and backhand-followed well herself. Finally, after a series of errors by both players (three outright whiffs), Sheila outlasted Lan 27-25. In the third, Sheila, down 19-16…19-17, missed what might have been a match-changing high ball and Lan, finishing, as Shazzi said, with “a topspin counter that caught the table edge,” was soon a winner.

            Vuong, who says it’s boring to practice with the robot in her living room (“Other people have sisters, friends to be with—but the robot doesn’t talk to me”), just 20, -19, 17 got by Takako.

            Ending up in a three-way 4-3 tie were Vuong (5th—$275), Lisa (4th—$350), and Carol (3rd—$400). Lan had Carol a game down and seemingly out of position trying to cover 80% of the table with her backhand, but it was Carol who steadied to win. Against Lisa, from 17-all in the third, Carol wasn’t doing much defending or absurd forehand-countering. She served and backhanded one in (her best shot). Then Lisa, though catching quick Carol on a drop, missed two forehands.

            Finishing second with a 5-2 record was Alice. She’d been in trouble with O’Dougherty, had been 10-7 down at the turn—but seemed to almost encourage Sheila to lose concentration. “My game’s better now than it used to be,” said 32-year-old Alice. Know why?” “Why” I asked. “My head’s better. I’m not so temperamental at the table. Moreover, my style’s not the same as anybody else’s. And I’m willing to hold to it, play my game, do what I have to do. You think maybe I should be mixed up by the new combination rackets, the threatening serve and follow, the overpowering loop? The women I play are more mixed up by my ‘old-fashioned’ game than I am by theirs. Also, I’m in shape. I’m strong. I don’t get tired playing. In fact, quite seriously, I don’t expect to reach my peak for another 7-8 years.”

            Hey, maybe by that time Insook will have retired?

Old Boys

            Playing in the Over 40’s but not in the Men’s (for the first time since coming to this country) was D-J Lee. Undoubtedly, though, he was thinking of other things—his wife He-ja was going to give birth to their second child in January; he was learning about real estate; was studying Spanish and Chinese; and working full time at his Vegas casino job. How much time, really, did he have for table tennis?

            Out he came, though, from his equipment booth to play Ron Von Schimmelman. Ron had just come back from location in Houston. “The Lady from Yesterday”—that was the CBS Movie of the Week he’d been auditing. And guess what? He hadn’t touched a racket for seven weeks. Not of course that it would make any difference. Why? Because when D-J got out there he couldn’t consistently loop Ron’s variation of heavy backhand chop and nothing ball. Exit D-J in three in the semi’s.

            Not surprisingly, however, Von Schimmelman ($100) couldn’t beat Brathwaite ($200). The Chief’s “soft” ball bothered Ron. D-J had kept missing that second return, had tried to kill it in; not so the wily George.

            Winning the 50’s and 60’s was Gentleman George Hendry. What wasn’t so usual, though, was that in the ‘50’s final I’d had him 2-0 and was at 15-all in the third when—a surprise to me—the Expedite Rule came in. From that point on, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It was as if I were in some kind of time warp and seeing Over 60’s runner-up Bill Hornyak serving an overhead at the Y in the late ‘20’s. “Yeah,” said Bill, “they didn’t even have a bounce serve then.” Hendry, however, did steady me to a win in the 50 Doubles—over Bernie Bukiet/Mike Blaustein.

            Winners of special 40’s events were: Lyle Theim over D.F. McDermott in the U-1800’s; and Frank McCann, Jr. over Doc Fullbright in the U-1600’s.

            As for Marty Doss and Bobby Fields, they were headed for another National Doubles final—like in ’64? Not quite. This time, in the semi’s of the 40 Doubles against Brathwaite and Lee they were up 1-0 and 9-1; then up 18-13 in the third…before losing. George and D-J would then go on to down Bohdan Dawidowicz/Howie Grossman in the final. Still, Bobby’s not discouraged. Nor should he be. “When I was 15,” he said, “I beat Bergmann for $100. Once I beat Reisman for $500. I could count those as tournament wins.”

            No problem about Fields counting the U-2000’s here as a win ($150). He had runner-up Rich Doza ($100) talking to himself. “There are so many different kinds of choppers,” said Rich. “Some I can play well against. But this man Fields, using anti on his forehand, has the hardest chop going. He does things I don’t know about.”

            And Houshang Bozorgzadeh, whom Bobby had 20-3 one game—what did he win? Nothing—though he came five-game close ($100) in the final of the Hard Bat to favorite Dean Doyle ($200). “In the first four games I hit too many forehands just to prove I could still hit them, but then, after getting ahead in the fifth, I didn’t hit a couple of forehands I should have, and then I went back to hitting forehands when I shouldn’t have.” 

Class Events

            Here are the results of some Class events I haven’t commented on elsewhere: U-2150: Horace Roberts ($150) over Mas Hashimoto ($100). U-4000 Doubles: Mark Kennedy/Jim Etherton ($100) over Charles Childers/Al Martz ($50) who’d advanced by Steve Betts/Bill Yang, 19 in the 3rd. U-1900: Mark Wedret ($100), 20, 20, 18, over Mark Letgers ($50), after Letgers had knocked out Terrence Ide, 19 in the 3rd. U-1800: Vivat Phungprasert ($100) over Stanley Tang ($50), 24-22 in the 5th. U-1700: Josef Doleja ($100) over Alex Ly ($50). U-3400 Doubles: Ruben Guillen/ Ed Jaffe over David Rogers/Steve Schreiner, -12, 20, 13, then over Harold Kopper/Frank McCann. U-1600: Phungprasert ($100) over Richard Friedland ($50) who on opening day’s play teamed with Randy Mullins and Al Shears to come second in the C-Group Teams to Rich Livingston/Bart Lawson. U-1500: Friedland over J.D. Williams. U-1400: Wiley Riggs over Doc Fullbright. U-1300: Toby Peters over Esther Bochary. U-2600 Doubles: Herb Gilbert/Harry Bloom over Paul Thompson/Bill Meiklejohn, -19, 22, 8, then over Steve Noffsinger/Hal Reynolds. U-1200: Charles Hill over William Freeman. U-1000: David Zamora over Barry Vogel, 18 in the 5th.

Juniors’/Boys’

            Draw-sheets of course are indispensibly important for my write-ups, but Bill Steinle’s got the right idea in taping Sean O’Neill’s Junior matches—gotta be a big help to his play. Stare into the camera: there in the semi’s of the Under 21’s is Sean playing Brian Masters—though if you were looking for a pic of T.T.’s National Amateur Athlete of the Year in the Nov.-Dec. Olympian you’d have to look again, for there above the caption “Brian Masters” is a smiling Sean. Eighteen-all in the first was the score. At which point Sean whiffed two and yelled, “Don’t change your game! Those were right shots!” and apparently they were, for despite losing that game O’Neill went on to win the next two.

            In the other Under 21 semi’s, Eric Boggan and Quang Bui, who’d beaten Insook in Wednesday’s A- Group Team’s (bringing his teammates Brian Masters and Ricky Seemiller to an unplayed, split-the-prize-money final with Jim Lane and Attila Malek), were contesting some long, crowd-pleasing points. Finally, as expected, Eric ($200) won the match, then moved on to the final where he rather routinely disposed of Sean ($100).

            A little irritated at himself Sean may have been on losing to Eric three straight, but he would surely have been more than disappointed if he’d lost to Khoa Nguyen in the finals of the Under 17’s and downright mortified if he’d have lost to Jimmy Butler in the semi’s. Sean also paired with Khoa Nguyen to take the Under 17 Doubles from the Butler brothers. In the 15 Doubles, Jimmy teamed with Billy Lipton for a win over Tryg and Thor Truelson.

            “Kill it! Kill it!” that’s what I heard Under 15, Under 13 Champ Jimmy yell. “The eggs—quick, before they hatch!” Turns out he was at a video game (hand-eye coordination practice session). And the vanquished finalists Billy Lipton (in the 15’s), Howard Nirken (in the 13’s), where were they? Practicing their coordination at another Vegas training hall? Off somewhere afraid of catching Eric Owen’s chicken pox? No use defaulting Eric from the Under 11’s, the Under 9’s, now that the spots have appeared—I mean, he’s been contagious right along.

            Besides, devil-may-care Todd Sweeris doesn’t care about the pox. He won the U-11’s—and broke only one racket doing it. (I hope they allowed Heather Haines, the only entry in the Girls Under 11, to play—regardless of whether they’d given her a trophy or not.) Dick Butler told me Jimmy was Todd’s idol. “If I could only straighten out Jimmy’s behavior,” said Dick, “Todd would act better.” Too “Kill it!” competitive—is that what we’re to think?

            And what does Dell say—privately in his diary? I don’t know. He hasn’t shown it to me since I quoted that August entry in Timmy’s. Anyway, what’s all this talk about Todd? The kid always looks angelic to me—looks positively beatific, radiantly happy, and proud of his guardian-angel mom and dad’s behavior.

            Coming second in the Under 11’s was “Cool Eddie” Weiss, who (“What? You didn’t enter me!”) practically had to lose his cool to get into this event. And glad he did too, since, in winning the title, for the first time he beat his arch-rival Eric Owens. Eddie was described to me as “a charming little boy who doesn’t throw his racket”—a description which naturally I’ve tried not to hold against him. At Jeff Mason’s Sacramento T.T. World Camp recently, Eddie was putting in full 18-hour days, training, practicing, and taking on all comers—except for his lunch break when he’d asked Mr. Mason if he could please play against the robot.

            Fortunately, a kid with a wrestler’s name, Karl “The Barbarian” Schulz, written on his shirt-back, was also there in the U-11’s to add some color—and he too beat young Owens in that event. But sing no sad songs for Eric. He won his National U-9 title, though of course he didn’t shake hands after the match with possibly contaminated “Cool Eddie.” Yes, Eric’s training has paid off. “He ran a real hilly 20-mile course the other day,” said his father Kenny—“but he wasn’t too concerned about the time. He just ran it for leg endurance, you know?”