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History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 13: 1984

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 

            1984: Sue Butler’s “Ping-Pong Diplomacy I and II.” Danny Seemiller at the World Cup. Canadians at the World University Championships. Bundesliga Format and Teams. Brian Eisner and Mike Bush on Training. Eric Boggan’s Bundesliga Debut for his Steinhagen team. 

Ping-Pong Diplomacy I and II

Sue Butler’s just returned from another trip to China—her fourth—and here’s what she has to say (SPIN, Sept., 1984, 16, and Oct., 1984, 11): 

“I again noticed many changes. Along with the continuing emphasis on apartment-building construction, the tourist trade is definitely getting a lot of attention. There are new hotels and the old ones have been modernized. High walls or guards posted at the entrance effectively keep the hotel guests separated from the Chinese people. The reason for this is not as harsh as it first appears.

There are swarms of Chinese people everywhere. They are an intensely curious people and if they were allowed to wander anywhere freely, the foreign business people and visitors would stand no chance. It took me a long time to come to grips with this situation, but I see it now as a survival-tactic employed by the Chinese government to encourage tourism and business rather than an attempt to forcefully restrict the movements of the Chinese citizen.

I stayed at the Tingsonglou (Listen-to-the-tower) Hotel. This is a beautiful new hotel that used to be the residence of Sheng Xuanhuai, Minister of Post of the late Qing dynasty. The halls and building inside the residence are linked by galleries, and the courtyard is densely wooded and filled with bamboo groves. The gardens and fountains are embellished with many varieties of exotic flowers and rare plants. The only problem was getting a taxi, which always took from 30 minutes to two hours.

I met with Xu Yinsheng, President of China’s TTA. It was our third meeting and we accomplished a good deal of business. We talked at length about a possible invitational tournament that the Korean Times newspaper asked me to try to negotiate between the China, USA, and South Korean National teams that would take place before the end of 1984.

We also discussed exchanging Chinese hitting-partners/coaches, more tournaments between the USA and China, and junior exchanges. President Xu expressed his strong feeling for the friendship between our countries, and his desire for our Associations to work together as much as possible.

  The meeting was very positive and it ended with my asking if I could interview some of China’s top players and coaches. Not to be unduly specific I included several names, for I realized that many people were at home in their respective provinces for summer vacation.

I was invited to dinner at a new restaurant near the Beijing Hotel and was fortunate to dine with: President Xu, Tong Ling, Geng Lijuan, Cai Zhenhua, Wang Fuzheng, and Xu Shaofa who’s moving into Li Furong’s position as the Men’s Team’s Head Coach, since Li is now very busy as an official in the Sports Federation. (Indeed, while I was in China, Li was in Los Angeles on behalf of the Chinese Olympic Delegation.) Also present was a female interpreter and China Sports Service Company representative Qian Xiping.

The meal was superb, but the conversation was even better. We talked for almost four hours. The pace of the discussion was quick and at times everyone was talking at once. The Chinese treated each other on an equal basis and all were included in the conversation. I was disappointed, though, that none of us could get the women to talk much. Tong Ling is very shy and Geng Lijuan isn’t much better.

Cai Zhenhua made up for all of this as he talked almost constantly and was utterly fascinating. He is extremely intelligent, witty, and very appealing. I was also very impressed with Xu Shaofa. His answers to questions were well thought out. I felt at times like he and I were in some kind of contest. He asked almost all the questions that were put to me—questions that were difficult to try to answer. No one likes to talk more than President Xu, however. The restaurant closed at 8:00 p.m., but at 10:00 Xu was still going strong when the staff came in to kick us out so they could go home.

Because this dinner interview was so long and I have so much interesting information, I will divide what I have into several parts which will be printed serially in subsequent issues of SPIN.

Soon after we had begun eating, Cai asked me if I’d heard that he’d been asked to play in the German Bundesliga at a season salary of $200,000.

 I said, ‘When is your plane leaving?’

They all laughed, and Cai said he was going there after the next World Championships.

I asked him several questions about the two-color rubber change and how it was affecting him personally. He replied that he had a lot of problems with this and is trying to compensate by working harder on his serves and serve return.

I asked what Cai was thinking when he was down to Danny Seemiller in the fifth game of the 1983 Tokyo World Championships. Did he think strategy or was he playing on pure animal instinct?

‘No way was I thinking about strategy,’ he replied. ‘All I could think of was, I’ve got to win, I have to win. It was, as you said, animal instinct.’

At this point Xu Shaofa (Cai’s coach) interjected to say that what Cai said was very true. ‘Some players play with their heads, others by instincts. Cai is definitely an instinct player. Many times we ask him what he does and how he thought about a particular situation, and he can seldom tell us.’

When asked what type of player Cai dislikes to play against the most, he replied, ‘Left-handers with styles similar to mine. I don’t like to play Danny Seemiller, although he is getting older now, and Appelgren, especially Appelgren.’

‘What about Appelgren?’ I said, ‘He looks like he should be easy to defeat as he doesn’t even seem to care whether he plays or not.’

Cai said, ‘Appelgren looks like he is doing nothing and then, all of a sudden, the ball is by you. I have trouble keeping my concentration when the man on the other side of the table is so passive. Actually, there are quite a few people in the world I don’t like to play. But there are also a lot of people who don’t like to play me.’”

                                                *****

‘The meal consisted of many courses and the various dishes were placed on a large rotating unit at the table’s center. I told the Chinese that we called this a ‘lazy Susan.’ They asked me, ‘Why?’ I replied that I didn’t know. Maybe it was invented by a woman named Susan who was lazy. Xu said that sounded reasonable to him.

Tong Ling sat on my left and kept filling my plate. I ate little as I was so busy taking notes and asking questions. My full plates were constantly replaced with empty ones and Ling never neglected her duty.

The formal questioning did not begin for about an hour, but the dinner conversation was most interesting.

President Xu and the coaches asked how the U.S. juniors who had trained in China in 1982 were doing. I brought them up to date on Sean O’Neill, Brandon Olson, Khoa Nguyen, and Scott and Jimmy Butler. Xu asked me when Jimmy was going to return to China, and I replied he hadn’t been invited.

Several of the Chinese asked about Eric Boggan. Was it true that he had no coach and, in fact, liked to have someone in his corner who listened while Eric did all or most of the talking? They thought this was a strange twist to the way they perceive the coach-player relationship. They asked me if Eric’s attitude and temperament were typical of the young American player.

I questioned each of the Chinese players about the player-coach relationship. I asked how important a coach was to them. Did they feel the coach helped them that much during a match, or were they just as comfortable on their own?

They were all emphatic in their response. All wanted the coach there during the match. They feel the support of the coach as they play, and they feel the most comfortable when they know that advice is there when they need it.

I asked Xu how so many kids get involved in table tennis in China, as we have so much trouble with recruitment in the U.S. Xu replied that parents encourage their kids to play, especially the girls. It takes a minimum of equipment, and all the necessary ingredients are readily available in China, free of charge. Actually, Xu said, there are almost twice as many girls playing as boys.

I asked Tong and Geng how the girls kept their dedication and intensity through their teenage years when many of their peers in other countries seem to lag behind and become obsessed with clothes and boys.

The women liked this question and discussed it quite thoroughly. They said of course they thought about appearance and boys too, but when they were brought to the National Training Center they had a goal. They wanted to achieve the highest level possible for their country. This is their most intense desire and everything else is secondary. Also, there are so many good female players in China that if an individual doesn’t remain serious about practice she will soon be replaced.

I was asked if the U.S. was going to develop leagues like in Europe.

Xu said, ‘The U.S. has produced quite a few really exceptional juniors, but most of them are never heard from again after they’re 20. You must provide year-round training for your elite juniors so they can train and go to a university at the same time. I think this is how you are losing these players. When they come out of the universities it is too late for them to concentrate on training. They are already too far behind. [And what are their chances of becoming world-class elite if they try to combine serious study and training?]

I asked if the Chinese were providing better education for their National Team players. In the past, players just trained from the middle-teen years on and the educational level was very low.

Cai Zhenhua replied that he had just graduated with a physical education degree and will someday coach. [And how much serious study toward a degree did that take for one who’s already given most of his life to sport?] Tong Ling is almost finished with her university education, and the other players are pursuing various educational programs. The Chinese are proud of this change and are serious about their responsibility for the education of their athletes. [Isn’t being an elite athlete enough of a job? Time enough for highly disciplined study to be a doctor, an engineer, an architect, after your elite t.t. career is over—that is, if, after 20 years of world-class table tennis, you’ve the desire for a specialized education.]

I asked if counselors are provided to handle the personal problems of the players at the National Training Center. The Chinese all laughed and Xu said that the coaches have a close personal bond with the players and serve them in any capacity that is needed.

I asked Cai; ‘If you had a very deep-seated personal problem that you didn’t want anyone else to know about, would you entrust this information to your coach and feel confident that he would never tell another person?’ [Best question asked to this point.]

Cai laughed for several seconds and replied, ‘Of course not.’

Xu told me this is obviously an area for some serious thought [which is why Cai (nervously? deceptively?) laughed?]

I asked for opinions from everyone—what did they think of Americans? What do they like about them? Don’t like about them? Here is the consensus of opinion.

Americans are very hard-working, enthusiastic, kind, open-minded, interesting, friendly, fun-loving, helpful, patriotic, and have great fighting spirit. President Xu is most impressed with the American’s ability to get a job done in the most efficient manner possible with the least amount of effort. But, he added, Americans do not avoid and are not afraid of working hard.

I had a lot of trouble getting opinions on the negative feelings the Chinese have about the U.S. They finally replied that they abhorred the violence in American society which seems to jump up at them from every segment of our country—movies, radio, television, the press, and by personal observations by the Chinese in the streets of our cities.

Public displays of any kind by Americans are most offensive to the Chinese. Arguments, sexual displays, drunkenness—all are very rarely seen in China.”

                                                ****

Danny Robbins (SPIN, Sept., 1984, 18) reports on the TSP-sponsored $55,555 World Cup, played Aug. 29-Sept. 2 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Among the 16 elite players was North American-entry Danny Seemiller whom I’ll have Robbins begin his coverage with: 

 “Danny Seemiller, who hadn’t played international competition of a World Cup caliber since the ’83 World Championships, couldn’t adjust to the dead-ball blocks and topspin drives of China’s Xie Saike and lost two straight in his first preliminary group match. In Danny’s second pre-lim match, however, he showed that he can compete against the world’s very top players when he had Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner down 1-0 and 8-3 in the second. Waldner, though, fought back to win the second and third, 21-18. Still, the match was reminiscent of Seemiller’s five-game battle with China’s Cai Zhenhua at the ’83 Tokyo World’s. You just have to believe that a steady exposure to top international competition would allow him to win some of the matches he’d lose.

Later, Danny was beaten by Dominican Mario Alvarez. But then he came back from down 20-17 triple-match-point in the third to defeat Swede-turned-Australian Tommy Danielson and set up his final match with former World Champion Istvan Jonyer. After dropping the first game at 15, Danny’s strategy of getting the opening with a loop to the Hungarian’s forehand, allowed him to play almost even with Jonyer in the second. Down 19-18, Danny hit a powerful point-winning loop to his opponent’s forehand and Jonyer responded with an up-at-the-table counter-loop (that only a World Champion should try) and it went in for a winner. Jonyer took that game at 19 for a two-straight victory and so finished 13th to Danny’s 14th.

Alvarez, at this World Cup, produced what may be the best international performance by a Latin American. In addition to downing Seemiller, he scored wins over England’s Carl Prean and Malaysia’s Lim Chin Leong for an 11th-place finish.

Mario’s match against Lim was a real crowd-pleaser, for the athletic Domenican was running all over the court, returning high lobs and far-from-the-table counter-kills which he sometimes executed after switching racket-hands between shots. At match’s end, though, Alvarez seemed to be facing imminent defeat. Down match-point after many exchanges, he slipped and fell flat to the floor while returning a shot. Mario’s return was high, in the middle of the table, and practically hanging over the net—a made to order set-up for the Malaysian. Mario would have no play on the shot, but Lim, perhaps stunned by the opportunity, froze and swatted the ball off! Mario then went on to win the deuce game and match. He walked off the table and with a straight face and in a serious tone said, ‘I knew I had him all along.’

The new two-color rule apparently had a significant effect on Prean and Cai. The Englishman, who’d performed so well at the Tokyo World’s, struggled to finish 12th. While the best Cai could do was 7th with a loss to Waldner along the way.

Nigeria’s Atanda Musa’s upset of Sweden’s Erik Lindh in the pre-lim’s dropped the Swede into the bottom group of eight—with the result that Musa finished 8th and Lindh 9th. Musa, playing well, had a good style for the hot and humid conditions. His opening loops and blocks gave him an advantage over Lindh, for the Swede’s loops and counter-loops weren’t effective in the damp stadium.

Waldner’s two wins over Xie Saike was part of an overall 4-1 advantage that the Swedish players enjoyed over the Chinese—a result that makes the Men’s Team event at the upcoming Gothenberg, Sweden World’s more interesting. In the quarter’s, though, Waldner fell to China’s Jiang Jialiang, 31-29 in the fourth! That match featured Jiang’s fast smashes against Waldner’s lob returns.

It was Jiang’s semi’s match against Japan’s Kiyoshi Saito, though, that would be his toughest. Down 2-0 and 17-13 in the third, he rallied for a 21-9 in the fifth victory

In the final, before a crowd of 3,500 cheering Malaysians and an international TV audience, Jiang’s speed proved too great to overcome. He defeated South Korea’s Kim Wan in four games. to take the $16,000 first-place prize money. But it was to Kim’s credit that he did so well, especially considering that he got the terrible news during the tournament that one of his parents had died. 

World University Championships

            At the World University Championships, played Sept. 2-9 in Gdansk, Poland (Canada’s Table Tennis Technical, Oct., 1984, 4-9), the U.S. didn’t send a team, but Canada did. They entered four men and three women, “but one of their men, Romanian emigrant Horatio Pintea, and one of their women, Vietnamese emigrant Thanh Mach, were denied entering visas.”

 China won all events—Men’s and Women’s Team’s; Men’s and Women’s Singles; and Men’s, Women’s and Mixed Doubles. In every final, except the Women’s Doubles, Chinese played Chinese. Winners: Men’s: Teng Yi over Wang Yansheng, 3-0. Semi’s: Teng over Poland’s Grubba, 3-1 (or 3-2?); Wang over South Korea’s Kim Yong-Hyun, 3-0. Quarter’s: Teng over Russia’s Solopov; Grubba over Xu Fang; Wang over Poland’s Jakudowicz; Kim over Poland’s World #31 Kucharski. Women’s: Wu Qiong over Hu Xiaoxin, 3-1. Semi’s: Wu over Japan’s Kohara, 3-1; Hu over Wen Shungun, 3-0.

            Canada’s Mariann Domonkos said, “You wonder about the Men’s draw when Grubba has to face the #2 seed in the quarter’s and the #1 seed in the semi’s. Usually the organizing committee arranges things so that the home-town favorite can get to the final.” [How did these Chinese get seeded over Poland’s World #7 Grubba? And did the organizers want Grubba to play both Chinese so as to give the spectators more involvement, the tournament more press and prestige?]

            Men’s Doubles: Xu/Li Weimin over Teng/Wang, 2-0. Women’s Doubles: Hu/Wu over Hungary’s Bolvari/Kiss, 2-1. Mixed Doubles: Wang/Wen over Teng/Hu, 2-0.

            Canadian Results: Men’s Singles: Joe Ng: Round of 64, beat West Germany’s Thomas Weikert (later, in the new millennium, President of the Deutscher Tischtennis Bund, and future Executive Vice-President of the ITTF), 12, 15, 18; Round of 32, beat Poland’s Adam Dynowski, 11, 12, 15; Round of 16, lost to Grubba. Alain Bourbonnais: Round of 64, lost to Bulgaria’s Loukov. Chris Chu: Round of 128, beat Hungary’s Molnar (the Hungarian International?); Round of 64, lost to South Korea’s Nam Sung-Kwan. Men’s Doubles: Ng/Japan’s Mitsuhiro: Round of 32, lost to Grubba/Jakubowicz. Bourbonnais/Chu: Round of 32: lost to Czechoslovakia’s Tinkler/Zabransky. Women’s Singles: Mariann Domonkos: Round of 32, beat West Germany’s Haase; Round of 16, lost to Japan’s Kohara, 3-1. Becky McKnight: Round of 64, beat Poland’s Wojcik in five; in Round of 32, lost to China’s Wen. Women’s Doubles: Domonkos/McKnight: Round of 32, beat West Germany’s Reville/Poland’s Bomba; Round of 16, beat Czechoslovakia’s Gajdasova/Strakosova; Round of 8, lost to Bolvari/Kiss, 2-0. Mixed Doubles: Ng/Domonkos: Round of 32, beat Japan’s Sakurai/Nemoto; Round of 16, lost to winners Wang/Wen. Bourbonnais/McKnight: Round of 64: lost to Japan’s Tando/Masukawa. 

Training in Germany and Sweden

            Brian Eisner (SPIN, Jan., 1985, 21) offers the following comments about training in Germany and Sweden: 

            “Team practice in both countries took place in the evening [just in the evening?]. The team’s trainer [the head trainer?] would start the session by leading the players through a 15-minute warm-up of running and stretching. In Germany, especially with Eric Boggan’s Steinhagen team, the trainer’s obligations would basically end after assigning each player a practice partner. For the rest of the night he would walk around commenting on good shots made. Consequently, many players ended up playing game after game, sometimes not fighting or caring. This amazed me when I considered how much money they earned. [How much money did some of them make?]

            In Stockholm I trained with two teams and both trainers worked their teams hard. Every ten minutes the players were instructed to do specific drills (five minutes each), many of which started with a short serve. The Swedes were more spirited [than the Germans] and practiced hard the entire night. About once a week at the end of the evening’s session, there was grueling physical exercise designed to strengthen the legs.

            Individual practice sessions in both countries were also different. In Germany, everyone I played warmed up with basic forehand/forehand, backhand/backhand drills and then wanted to play games, or sets as they call them, for the rest of the night. It’s obviously necessary to play practice matches, but in my opinion it’s more important to work on specific aspects of the game. Too many players practice patterned drills, but in a game your opponent will try to hit the ball where it’s not expected, so random drills should be emphasized. [I see how the randomness comes about in games when your opponent varies his expected play, but I’d have liked an example of a random drill or two that offers that same unexpectedness.]

            In Sweden, this [random drills?] is exactly what I did, specifically five-minute topspin drills starting with a short serve, just like in a real game except more controlled. [I’m still looking for the randomness.] After an hour and a half, we would finish the sessions playing games.

            For those people interested in training in Germany, I would strongly recommend that they sign up with a team by June unless their rating is over 2450. My biggest problem in Germany was that I felt out of place, especially with such a strong team as Steinhagen. The attitude was that I wasn’t worthy of practicing with because I was not as good as the others. But being on a team would guarantee practice partners and, more importantly, specific times to train as the practice halls are only open limited hours and often other teams have use of the hall. But understand I only got a glimpse of German table tennis and there are many other places to train besides Steinhagen.

            In my opinion, the place to go is Stockholm, Sweden. The people are very friendly and speak English while the cost of living is comparable to the U.S. The players, even the great ones, are willing to practice [with you] and the sport halls are almost always open. But if you want personal coaching or someone telling you what to do, then stay home and go to a Seemiller clinic—you’ll learn much more.

            Table tennis is a difficult game and dedication should come well before you think of traveling to Europe.”

            [Brian doesn’t mention in his article when or for how long he was in Germany watching Steinhagen players training and practicing—watching the best players training and practicing? (But in a Sept. 17th letter home, Eric writes, ‘Eisner just flew in from Brussels and I’ll pick him up in Bielefeld this evening after training.’) However, Brian’s article appeared in the Jan., 1985 issue of SPIN and the following account by Mike Bush appeared two months earlier. It’s apparent that trainer and training methods weren’t always the same. Certainly the two accounts as to the Steinhagen trainer and his methods differ greatly.]*           

 Pre-Bundesliga Preparation

            “For myself and many other players in Germany,” says Mike Bush (SPIN, Nov., 1984, 14), “the preparation period for the September start of the German Bundesliga begins in June. I traveled often to my old club, now Eric Boggan’s new club—Steinhagen—where the players practice hardest. Personally, I tried to train twice a day, every day, emphasizing speed work, such as sprints and leaping exercises. If I wasn’t able to find a t.t. partner, I’d go to the local squash club and put in a few hours of sprinting from wall to wall, smashing ball after ball against the front and side walls. There’s nothing like squash for building one’s stamina, endurance, and arm-power.

            Officially, training in Steinhagen starts the first of August. Training there means two, two-to-three-hour sessions daily, six days a week. The majority of training time is devoted to systematic footwork drills, both regular and irregular, in order to gain quickness and learn ball control while moving. The last third or quarter of the training time is spent playing matches. After most evening sessions, conditioning exercises, such as sprints and circuit training, are emphasized. Obviously, one must be physically prepared for such an intense training environment.

            For Eric Boggan, who flew in from New York after a summer with relatively no TT practice, it was an extremely painstaking struggle that he didn’t believe he could survive. The club trainer [but not the head trainer?], Udo Steinwag, a muscle-bound fanatical believer in the importance of a strong body for high-level TT, wasn’t about to let any of his players slack off, especially Eric, who he knew could be difficult and who he wanted as an example for the younger players as how a world-class athlete trains.

            The training is very regimented and the players are fined for being late. Little did Steinwag know what was going on in Eric’s mind and body as Eric would only open up to his old friends or parents via telephone. Under the menacing stare and control of Udo, Eric was determined to keep his pains and tears of frustration bottled up inside him. Eric’s inner strength fueled his efforts and he not only survived the training, but he came through for his team and himself on opening night of the Bundesliga.

            It’s ironic sometimes how quickly an attitude can change. After his successful first league tie, Eric was a different person. He no longer hated the brutal, unsympathetic atmosphere of the training hall; he needed it and relished in it. But let’s not get carried away, everything has its time and place, and this story is of the time dedicated to the pre-season preparation, the time of work and sweat, not glory.

            A week and a half before their first league competition, Steinhagen played an exhibition tour. Each evening, the club played a friendship match against a second-division club. Eric was undefeated in these matches, which helped his head a lot, especially his win over Czechoslovakian Josef Dvoracek, ranked 39th in the world.

            During this time, my club, Schloss Neuhaus, ran their own training camp and played two friendship matches. In our first encounter, we played the five-time First Division league champions Duesseldorf on our home court in front of 300 enthusiastic fans. I wasn’t able to win a match on that evening but I satisfied myself and the audience with a 17-in-the-third heartbreaker of a loss to Desmond Douglas of England. On that evening our ‘middle man,’ Franz-Josef Huermann, former U.S. Hard Bat National Champion, who is still as crisp and quick as ever at 34, was undefeated.

            In our second exhibition competition, we played Steinhagen on neutral ground and were unable to score a point (lost eight matches). In the showcase match between the number two American, me, and the number one, Boggan, Eric was the victor. He beat me easily in the first game and then came back from 20-19 down to take the second and the match.

            During the last week of pre-season play, the intensity of training lessened as all minds and bodies focused upon what they were getting ready for—the start of ‘der Deutsche Bundesliga’—a one-of-a-kind international league competition. 

Bundesliga Format

            The league ties consist of a possible 16 best-of-three matches, which are staged on two individually barriered courts surrounded by spectators numbering 50-500 in the Second Division and 500-3000 in the First Division. The first team to win nine matches wins the tie. For a team victory, the winning club receives two points, the losing club none. In the case of an 8-8 split, each team receives one point.

            Each team has six men they can enter and from these six they must form two doubles pairs. In singles, each team has three two-man positions: ‘top’ (#1 and #2-ranked men in each club), ‘middle’(#3 and #4-ranked men), and ‘bottom’ (#5 and #6 men). These three positions play off against the same positions on the opposing team.

            Doubles have as much importance as singles in German league play, perhaps even more because of their first and last position in the order of play. The draw for a league tie is shown here. Remember, two matches are played simultaneously.

            In the First Division there are ten teams. The team with the best record at season’s end is crowned ‘Deutsche Meister’; the last two teams drop down into the Second Division of whichever district they come from. The two replacement teams coming up from the Second Division to the First are fought for by over 40 teams. That’s because in the Second Division there are four districts with 10-12 teams each. Each district has its own season. At the end of that season, the champion team from each of the four districts engages in a round robin play-off. The teams finishing first and second move into the First Division for the following season.

            In the First Division, the #1 man on each team is a world-class foreigner. Since only one foreigner is allowed per team, players like Scott Boggan and me, Mike, who could play on most First Division teams as a weak middle man or strong bottom man, have no chance of getting on a team and have to settle for the less prestigious Second Division where we are ‘stars.’ But it is not only players at our level who are affected in this way. World-ranked players, such as Dragutin Surbek (#17), Park Lee Hee (#38), and Josef Dvoracek (#39) are also playing in the Second Division. 

            This system has had an impact in terms of financial remuneration. Because of the few good German players who can play the #2 spot, the money offered to them is very high. And since there are many top world-class foreigners but only ten spots available, the money offered to them is relatively low. So what you have on most teams is the weaker German making more money than the stronger foreigner.

             The season starts in September and the first half lasts until the first week in December. During that period, each team plays all the others once. In the second half of the season, they play each other again from January through April. The official match day in the First Division is Friday evening (with Tuesday evening as an alternate date). In the Second Division, Saturday evening is the official match time (with Sunday morning as the alternate date).

            Here are the ten First Division teams and their #1/#2 men with last season’s record for the top ten: TTC Plaza Altena—Stellan Bengtsson (20-12)/Wilfried Lieck; TuS Vahr Bremen—Erik Lindh (26-7)/Bernd Koslowski; TTC Zugbrucke Grenzau—Anton Stefko/Jurgen Rebel; TTC Simex Julich—Ulf Carlsson (27-7)/Engelbert Huging; ATSV Saarbrucken—Jan-Ove Waldner/Georg Bohn (18-14); TTBG Steiner Optik Bayreuth—Milan Orlowski/Hans-Joachim Nolten; Borussia Duesseldorf—Desmond Douglas (30-5)/Ralf Wosik; TTC GW Bad Hamm—Milivoj Karakasevic/Jurgen Heckwolf; SSV Heinzelmann Reutlingen—Mikael Appelgren (26-8)/Peter Stellwag (18-14); Spvgg, Steinhagen—Eric Boggan (25-11)/Bernd Sonntag.

            In Second Division play, Scott Boggan had the best record (35-3) and Mike Bush the fourth best (30-10). In Third Division play, Charles Butler had the sixth best record (24-9). 

Opening Night for 1984-85 Bundesliga:

           Steinhagen vs. Duesseldorf 

            Mike Bush (SPIN, Nov., 1984, 15-17) reports on Eric Boggan’s opening night debut with his new Steinhagen club: 

            “ ‘…And now to introduce the #1 actors of this play,’ the loudspeakers boomed. ‘First, the absolute king of the German League these past few years, the man with the top record last season of 30-5, Desmond Douglas.’ The 1100 spectators jammed into the small, sold-out gym exploded into applause in respect for the man who has always had in the past few years the best singles record in the league.

            ‘…And now here is our own U.S. Boy, with a record last season of 25-11, Eric Boggan.’ Another explosion of emotion—this time for the home team’s superstar.

            Each of the start-off matches would be a doubles. The ‘U.S. Boy’ and his partner, 20-year-old Bernd Sonntag from Dortmund, were standing in the Westfalen box [court] being introduced. Their opponents were Douglas and his partner, 21-year-old Cornel Borsos, a steady attacker from Bavaria. Borsos was their #3 man, who would not play Eric in the singles, but was eligible in the doubles to be paired with #1Douglas.

…The ball had been rolled, and silence filled the hall. Expectations hung in the muggy, stifling air as the first point of the 1984-85 Deutsche Bundesliga season was about to be played.

            In the Butterfly box [court] adjacent to Eric’s, the match started slow. The points were short, with each player trying to find his game in the highly competitive Bundesliga atmosphere. Slowly, the quality of the points progressed and so did the audience’s reaction to them. When Duesseldorf took this first game, 26-24, ohhs and awhhs were uttered by disappointed fans who’d be even more disappointed when their home team later went down in the third.

            In the Westfalen box, Sonntag had been playing full attack, trying to loop-kill every ball off the bounce and Douglas had made it extremely difficult for him to have much success. First game to Dusseldorf.

            The momentum changed in the second game. Eric was taking advantage of Cornel’s inability to handle his unique shots. Angled blocks, dying anti shots, and abnormal topspins were coming back as set-ups, giving Sonntag the opportunity to rip the ball. The second game was easily won by Steinhagen.

            The third game was close all the way and the fans were getting hyperactive. At 19-all, Eric made a short chop serve which Douglas pushed back low and short with heavy underspin. Sonntag took the risk and went for an all-out forehand flip-kill that tested the quality of the net. A few seats away from me a frustrated voice implored to no one in particular, ‘Oh, such a simple mistake!’ As I turned to see where the statement had come from, my glance was caught by a young TT player wanting to convey to me that he too realized the ridiculousness of the comment. I turned back to the table and watched Sonntag just miss a counter loop-kill that cost his team the match.

            In the first singles matches (between the ‘bottom’-position players), Steinhagen’s Jorg Budsisz, 21, a lefty with a lot of natural talent who has the loose-hand technique and steady top-spinning style of Sweden’s Appelgren or Waldner, played against Duesseldorf’s Robert Schlett from Bavaria, also 21, who is more mechanical in his strokes and goes for the seldom seen shot in German TT—the flat kill. Down 10-3, Budzisz jerked a forehand topspin off the table and turned to look at his father for help. His father, who the Steinhagen coaching staff had given permission to coach his son, was a good defensive player in his time and still played a 2300 game. He told his son to keep playing, but it was too late. Jorg spazzed another shot off the table. Once again he turned, this time looking desperate. He was losing himself in the circus atmosphere, and the more he looked over for help the less he got. Budzisz lost the first game and went to his corner where his father waited.

            His father talked to him calmly, intently, and when Jorg went back to the table he seemed ready to deal with the situation. He set up his top-spinning game with good high-toss serves and many good touch returns off of Schlett’s attack shots. Budzisz took the second game at 19. Then got the early lead he needed in the third. Now it was Schlett who seemed to be feeling the pressure. He tried to fight back with an aggressive attack, but Budzisz was playing smart, controlling the table with well-placed, hard-to-attack shots, forcing Schlett to make many mistakes. Budzisz won the third game and match at 11.

            Meanwhile, on the other table, Andreas Preuss defeated Steinhagen’s Dieter Ristig in two close games, so Duesseldorf preserved its two-match lead as the players from the ‘top’ positions entered the courts. Again, as in the doubles, the majority of the spectators were following the U.S. Boy’s match. It was Boggan vs. Ralf Wosik, Germany’s #2.

            The match started out in the same way it usually does when Eric plays Wosik. Eric plays tentatively while Ralf tries to win points with all-out forehand topspins. They usually play a close first game and this match was no different—although both seemed slightly nervous in their first singles of the season. I’d been given permission to be in Eric’s corner from loveable Manfred Sauerbrei, Steinhagen’s head trainer, who Eric likes to have near him when he’s playing because of the good mellow vibes that radiate from him. [Is that decidedly unmellow trainer, Udo Steinwag, still around? Or was it just his ‘menacing’ job to get Eric into shape?]

            The tactic against Wosik was for Eric to force his attack and to pound Wosik’s weak backhand. It was important that Eric give Ralf as few opportunities as possible to wind up and let fly his hammer-loop. They traded points all the way to the end of the first game. Eric was playing cautiously and Ralf was able to take the put-away shots. But as the game came to its closing stages you could feel the difference between the two players increasing. Eric became more aggressive, his shots crisper, and he was getting more and more intense and emotional—a typical American, loud and fighting. Ralf, on the other hand, was withdrawing emotionally, coldly controlling himself, not untypical for a German. Eric took the game from 19-all with two well-played points and let out a scream.

             Could it be that Wosik had too much control over himself and was unable to rise above himself; whereas Eric lets his ‘want’ and ‘will’ to win come out, raising his game to a high level that he doesn’t have in the practice hall?

            In the second game, Eric was hot. He constantly pumped himself up between points while Wosik kept playing routinely, mechanically trying to place his topspins well and returning Eric’s angled shots. As Eric’s lead increased, so did his level of play, seeming to peak every few points. Finally, down 19-13, Wosik gave up and served a straight, fast topspin ball into Eric’s backhand. Eric blocked the serve and won the point two shots later. Ralf used the same serve again and this time Eric’s return was the best shot I’ve ever seen him make. He side-stepped the ball and forehand-killed it as hard as he could right off the bounce. The sound of the ball bouncing on Eric’s side of the table seemed simultaneous to his kill-shot hitting Ralf’s side. The audience went bananas, Eric went bananas—everyone seemed to go bananas. Except Wosik.

            On the other table, Douglas used and abused Sonntag’s all-out attack to his own advantage. He blocked Bernd all over the place. It was a display of quickness that made you realize why Des is named ‘The Black Flash.’ After Des’s easy victory over Sonntag, Duesseldorf still led by two matches, 4-2.

            In the ‘middle’ position, Steinhagen’s Richard Fritz, the old-timer at 34, played well against Borsos. Fritz’s powerful high-arcing topspins and steady play earned him a 19-17-in-the- third lead. Fritz is known for his coolness on the table and his ability to nonchalantly make big comebacks to win matches. But Borsos is also a tough competitor. The last four points were well played by both, but all were won by Borsos, along with the match.

            On the other table, Steinhagen’s Carsten Matthias was playing against Duesseldorf’s Matthias Hoering. Carsten is a very talented player who can’t practice much because of a skin disease he’s had since birth. The week before the match he was taking the drug cortisone, which helps relieve his itching. He’d shown up at one practice session hobbling like an 80-year-old man, the skin over his whole body broken open and crusty. He was unable to practice. Carsten is an amazing person. He doesn’t let his ailment get him down and he always has a smile for his friends. At the table he’s a fighter and his game resembles something that might have been developed in the U.S. He has many strange shots and likes to trick and outthink his more grooved-stroke opponents.

            Hoering is also different than what is considered in German TT as ‘normal.’ His specialty is his high-toss serve which he follows up with a hard attack.

            The match was close because, though Carston had trouble handling Hoering’s serves, if he got into the point, he’d, more often than not, win it, would be the clear favorite. Down 15-13 in the third game, Hoering went for a high-toss serve, which he put into the net. He looked out of it. A spectator, who thought this was the perfect time to rub in a defeat that was surely coming, screamed out to Hoering that he wanted an instant replay of that serve. Hoering’s eyes focused angrily toward the area where the obnoxious quip had come from and then gritted his teeth and nodded his head. He fought and won four points in a row and proceeded to win the match. He held his fist up to the audience and then shook hands with Carsten. The spectator who’d wanted to throw Hoering off his game, but had only succeeded in doing the opposite, sat silent looking stupid.

            Duesseldorf now led the tie 6-2, and when they won both of the next ‘bottom’ singles matches, they were obviously going to win the tie.

            The match that everybody was waiting for was announced: ‘Boggan and Douglas in the Westfalen box, please.’ It would be a match between two of the quickest hands in the sport.

            Eric and I had discussed tactics all week. It was important that Eric play good on-the-table defense and make Douglas do the moving and attacking. Des, on the other hand, would surely try to force Eric to open the attack so that he could block him out of position.

            In the first game, Eric was too pumped up for his own good. Douglas pushed most of Eric’s serves back long and Eric bit at the bait. He went for hard topspins and Douglas counter-attacked, forcing Eric off the table where he made some great backhand kills, but still lost the majority of points. I was awed by how quick Douglas was. He spun ball after ball and countered and killed. One kill shot had seemed to come out of nowhere—I hadn’t seen his stroke though I’d been looking directly at him. Des was feeding on Eric’s speed and power and using it against him. The worst thing Eric was doing was leaving the table and punching all of Douglas’s shots back at him as hard as he could. I knew Eric would never win the match unless he drastically changed his game.

            After Eric lost the first, he came over to me and said he was too bad and couldn’t win. I told him it was only a matter of tactics, and he could win. He had to play on-the-table defense. No punch blocks. Instead he was to use his touch to keep the ball low and well-angled without force. He had to wait because Douglas is basically a very soft player—he has little power himself but can create tremendous drive through good timing and technique, and, most importantly, from his opponent’s force.

Douglas was deliberately pushing and Eric had to stop top-spinning. Instead, he should use his anti to make aggressive, spin-less long openings so that Des would have to attack. Also, it was important that Eric drop the ball short with the anti when Douglas left the table. Then Eric should patiently play a cat and mouse game until he got a weak return he could put away. I reminded him how he had beaten both Appelgren and Stellwag with this tactic the time he had a 101 fever.

Eric went back to the table a new player and the tactic-change caught Douglas off guard. Eric’s blocks were skimming the net and Des was getting his own force and spin back. Most of Eric’s blocks had sidespin/underspin. Douglas was forced to lift his second topspin and Eric was waiting to drop the ball short with his anti. The whole pace of the rallies had been changed and Eric dominated and won the second game.

In the third, the match became more technical and less physical, a hand-to-hand combat. Both players were staying at the table and placing the ball well. Eric was cracking Douglas’s pushes with his anti and giving him very little chance to do anything effectively. Up 18-11 Eric played a fabulous point which he won and the audience went crazy.

Eric’s blood started boiling again and he got carried away. It seemed like he wanted to end the match with a blast. He missed a ridiculous shot, one he had little chance of making, and then he blocked the next point away. Eric had lost his rhythm and was starting to look desperate. Up 19-14, he served short, Des pushed long, and Eric made an all-out loop that Douglas blocked back for a winner. Now the momentum had clearly changed.

Douglas was looking invincible and Eric was no longer fighting to win; rather he was fighting against losing and with each point he was getting tighter. The spectators were getting loud and talking to each other. Could it happen? The score was 19-18 for Eric—Douglas had won 7 straight points, and now had the serve. Eric looked like he was in a daze. He was toweling off three feet away from me and I was screaming tactics at him and he wasn’t hearing me. Then he turned and looked at me like a zombie.

I yelled at him that it was 19-18 in the third and that if he wanted the match he had to fight for it. Something seemed to click inside him and he nodded, and walked back to the table. Douglas served short to Eric’s backhand and Eric stepped around and went for a forehand anti-kill that just caught the edge. The spell was broken. At 20-18 his way, Eric played a good long point, ending the match with a well-angled block cross-court into Douglas’s deep forehand corner. The audience exploded.

For Eric it must have seemed like he’d awakened from a nightmare and that it was a beautiful spring day with the birds singing. He was jumping up and down and the audience was on its feet, clapping hands in a frenzy. He gave me a high-five that stung my flesh. He shook hands with Des. Shook hands with trainer Manfred. Waved to the crowd.

Eric’s impressive victory had scored only a single point for his team and couldn’t save Steinhagen from defeat. On the second table, Sonntag was looking weak against Wosik. Bernd had defeated Ralf last season in his home club with 800 fans rooting him on point by point, a situation that Sonntag thrives on. But during this match all eyes had been focused on the main attraction of Boggan-Douglas, and Sonntag might well have been playing on table 75 in Cobo Hall. By the time the standing ovation for Eric had died down, Sonntag was already on his way to losing. For Wosik it was a routine victory and he showed no emotion even after winning.

But although Steinhagen had lost 9-3 to Duesseldorf, the audience had been satisfied and they’d be back for more.” 

SELECTED NOTES.

*Belatedly, I came across Eisner’s “Letter to SPIN readers” that Editor Tom Wintrich included in SPIN, Apr., 1985, 3). It perhaps explains why I had questions about Brian’s write up. Here it is:

“This is a letter of apology to all of you and a formal complaint to the editor. My article  in January SPIN was originally written by me but the end result should have included Mr. Wintrich’s signature as well. He cut out about half the article, omitting how and why I went to Europe. The remainder he altered editorially in such a way as to destroy my style of presentation and, in some instances, the meaning as well. As one example of many, my phrase, ‘having no place’ was recorded as ‘feeling out of place.’ Similar words, but a world of difference in meaning.


All of this ‘editing’ took place after Mr. Wintrich informed me that the article would be printed in its entirety and that it ‘looked O.K.’ I was given no indication of any change until the article appeared. A second story concerning an exciting Bundesliga match has not yet been printed. Thus my apology to the readers; I’m truly sorry that you were not allowed to read two articles which had flavor and personality.


 I agree that an editor should ‘edit’ by correcting poor English and revising or omitting unacceptable phrases, but it must be done responsibly. My conversations with other contributors confirm this judgment. Perhaps the editor feels he was given a mandate to create his own newspaper and to limit the material used because his predecessor failed to do so. I believe that the best way is in between; be somewhat selective on material used and ‘correct’ only where absolutely necessary. Regardless, there is no question that SPIN is a vital element in the future of table tennis and hopefully this letter will not go unheeded. 


Brian Eisner
East Brunswick, NJ

 

All articles submitted to SPIN are subject to editing and there is no guarantee that submissions will be printed.—ED.