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

CHAPTER SEVEN 

            1984: Americans Abroad—II: European Cup Championship; 1984: Polish Open; 1984: English, French, and German Closed Champions; 1984: Israeli Open. 

            “Nope, no ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’—this is STRICTLY table tennis,” says ‘Christopher’ Boggan [better known as Scott Boggan] as he begins another European article for us (Timmy’s, Feb.-Mar., 1984, 11). Here’s his “Horses”—and I only wish we had more players in the U. S. who wrote with such involvement, such heart about the Sport. But it’s all about caring—and how many care, have even the chance to care in the U.S., about experiencing the passion of those in professional table tennis. 

“Not only do the 10 German Clubs participate in season-long round robin matches in the well-known Bundesliga (one foreigner permitted on each six-man team), they also, once a year, play single-elimination team ties among themselves (three-man teams, best 5 out of 9 singles matches). The winning Club is called the ‘German Cup’ Champion and goes on to play more single-elimination ties against the Club Champions of other countries…until finally a winner is crowned the ‘European Cup’ Champion. It is all quite a big deal.

The German Simex Joola team—with its three top players, the Swede Carlsson, a former Scandinavian Open Champion, and German Nationals Huging and Plum (pronounced Ploom)—what with upsets here and there, a good draw, and some strong play, had won the German Cup Championship last year and so were automatically eligible to join this year’s new German Cup winner in final-stage ties against teams from other countries. This was no small consolation considering their relatively poor standing now (and then) when partnered with their other three teammates in regular-season Bundesliga play.

But by the semifinal stage of competition for the European Cup, Julich had suddenly found themselves a winning team again—that is, up to a point. They’d had smooth sailing to the semi’s over English and Danish Clubs, but now they’d come to a barring of the way they apparently couldn’t break through—the spectacular Spartacus team of Hungarian National Team members Klampar, Kristan, and Molnar.*

In talk at the local pubs, my Spartacus 5—Julich 2 prediction was nothing out of the ordinary. Said one fellow, ‘I think Huging’s got the wrong attitude towards this match on Saturday—he doesn’t believe he can win.’ But his friend disagreed, ‘If he didn’t believe he could win, he wouldn’t play.’

As for Carlsson, Julich’s white hope, he wasn’t always getting the best of it either. The Julich Club manager had lied when he’d told reporters that Carlsson had gone back to Sweden because Huging and Plum’s defensive styles weren’t what he needed to play against to prepare properly for the Hungarians’ monster loops. Truth was, as the insiders knew, Carlsson and the other Swedes hated Germany and tried to stay out of the country as much as possible. And while players privy to what was expected to happen laughed at Plum’s joke, ‘Better give Klampar the key to the sponsor’s Mercedes’ (knowing of course Klampar’s admiration for that automobile and his unpredictable off-table antics), the innocent Julicher reading about the big ‘Match of the Century’ in his morning paper thought what he wanted to think, dreamed what he wanted to dream.

            Still, you could find the importance and the intensity surrounding the match when these alien Hungarian spinners showed up at the Club the night before. And this despite the fact that during practice, or later, even in their pre-Match warm-ups, the Hungarians looked lazy and bored, often dropping back from the table to indulge in long, unsuccessful sweeping motions that seemed to prove they never tried hard for a ball. Except of course for Klampar—he never strayed from the table and constantly bitched about every shot he missed…or made.

            Ulf Bengtsson of the Swedish National Team, meanwhile, had come to Julich to practice with Ulf Carlsson (called ‘Tickan’ by his friends) and then to play against him in a few days in a regular Bundesliga match. How informally did these Swedes take their League play?

            Or this European Cup semi? Carlsson had told not a reporter, not an innocent dreamer, but me privately the night before the Match that he didn’t think either of his chopping teammates could get 15 points a game. And my roommate Huging, if the truth be known to the pubs, wasn’t too much looking forward to the Match either. And yet before it all started I asked him how he felt, and then I learned the German phrase, ‘I’ve seen horses throwing up’—meaning ‘Anything is possible.’

            Realistically, I figured the only way Julich could win the Match was (a) a MUST three points from Carlsson (b) a point from Huging, over Molnar most likely, and then (c) a miracle-point maybe from Plum in the 8th match with the home crowd behind him, or possibly another point from Huging if somehow he could reach out of his glorious past (twice he’d reached the quarter’s of the European’s) and manage two wins against top-notch players—something he hadn’t done in years.

            Julich’s strategy was to try to get off to a lead—which meant playing Huging first against one of the weaker Hungarians—Molnar or Kriston—for at the moment Engelbert was in better form than Plum whose game in the last year had deteriorated. Plum then would have to bat in the third slot against Klampar since it was obvious that aces Klampar and Carlsson would be playing the important 7th match.

            The crowd of 1200—unhappily, the sponsor was unable to fill the hall to its 1500 capacity—got an early laugh as Carlsson, loosening up, jumped on the table to kill a lob.

            But when someone wanted to talk to Engelbert minutes before his match, he replied, ‘Don’t bother me, I’m concentrating.’ One of the occupational hazards of being a good player is that ordinarily you politely have to rap with everyone about everything in the t.t. world.

            Now Kriston and Huging got on the table and warmed up with a long forehand rally. When Kriston finally hit it off, I said, ‘Way to go, Engelbert.’ Engelbert smiled, but Carlsson, who was sitting on the bench, snapped, ‘If you’re going to act like that, you can leave.’ I just looked at him. What a jerk thing to say. He wasn’t so casual now. I was tempted to leave right away, but I really thought I could help Huging and my ex-roommate Plum by giving them some sort of pep talk or vocal encouragement. What was going on in Carlsson’s mind I didn’t know. Maybe he thought I was just going to horse around. All I wanted to do though was loosen Bert up and give him confidence.             

Match #1—Huging-Kriston

            With Kriston’s windmill loop-kill it looked as though it would be a very tough day for the defenders. Such sonic-boom loop-kills that landed surely could never be brought back. I’d never seen a faster loop in my life, and with Kriston up 5-2 Huging looked helpless.

            But then Kriston missed a few and Huging wasn’t quite laying the ball out there like he had been—he was pushing more aggressively, especially to the backhand corner where Kriston wasn’t able to smoothly forehand-sweep the ball any longer but was instead starting to roll a high backhand. Kriston now seemed unsure of what to do, often looping high, cross-court balloons off the table or allowing Huging to come around for an occasional kill.

From 9-11, Huging, continuing to get a lot of support from the crowd, took command, played smart—changed spin, speed, and ball position. Kriston seemed dazed, stopped launching those missiles, and started looping slower. Huging didn’t make a mistake and won the game at 14.

In the second, after Huging won the first point, the Hungarian coach signaled for Kriston to calm down. But then he missed an easy shot: 2-0. And Huging killed one in: 3-0. And killed in another: 4-0. And another: only to have Kriston unexpectedly bring it back for a winner: 4-1. With Huging now chopping every ball with his Feint, Kriston fought back to 7-6. Now—surprise—Huging flipped a serve in for a winner. He was doing all the little things right—was not making mistakes, was mixing it up, playing short balls then quick long ones with an unexpected loop thrown in here and there.

If the Hungarian keeps cool, he’ll still win, I thought. Huging missed a kill and then just seemed to fade away. The Hungarian’s loops were on now, forehand as well as, surprisingly, backhand. Down 14-11, Huging served and looped a zinger cross-court—only to have Kriston cover with a beautiful backhand counter-loop down the line. Huging, now stunned, at 16-12 served into the net. The Hungarian was starting to look good and I began to watch his graceful feet after he’d hummed in a loop. They didn’t show the textbook parallel footwork of the Japanese, were more like a gymnast’s feet after a few complicated flips and twirls, or the graceful movements of a ballet dancer.

With games tied at 1-1, Huging once again started off well. Down 3-0, Kriston once again seemed tight and his opening backhand moon balls were again floating ceiling-ward. Soon though it was as if I were in a rocking chair—the points were evenly going back and forth. Now Kriston began to grunt, perhaps give himself the additional physical and psychological power he needed to loop that slice of super-heavy Feint coming again and again at him.

From 11-all, Kriston’s loops began missing the table. Up 16-13, Huging, playing longer rallies now, began bringing everything back, was totally psyched-up and emotional after very point. He’d raise his hands, anticipating victory, while the Julich fans would clap louder and louder. Up 17-13, Huging missed a kill and—Awwhh—the fans were disappointed. Then—‘YEAHHH!’—again Huging’s hands reached up.

I couldn’t believe Kriston’s casualness, his unemotional behavior pattern. At 19-17, Huging looped cross-court, Kriston counter-looped, and Huging, in trouble, went for an incredible loop, and—unbelievable return—it went in for a winner. The long-haired Huging’s 20-17 jump into the air was like the rearing of a great stallion—and in a moment the hooves came down on Kriston.

I looked over at the Hungarians and saw that Rebmann, the owner of the Saarbrucken Club, had somehow found his way to the Match and was now sitting with the Hungarians in their special court-side box. Klampar saw him too and shook his hand. Klampar’s no dummy—not always anyway—he shakes millionaires’ hands. 

Match #2—Carlsson-Molnar

            In the next match, with Carlsson up 6-4, their ball suddenly cracked—was obviously broken, so Molnar crushed it. The umpire then took one ball out of his plastic bag and offered it to Molnar, who then, much to the fans’ amusement, grabbed the whole bag. The players hit a few balls and then Carlsson put the ball in his mouth. This of course was a common enough act among players because of the strong white coating—but the spectators laughed again and Carlsson said, ‘Why do they always laugh when I do that?’ Molnar—good players know their audience’s needs—then signaled that he wanted the ball back—to dry it off. This really cracked up the spectators.

            From 11-9 up, Tickan was just too fast for the big looper—ran away with the game. Especially after serving, Carlsson would play hard to Molnar’s anti and right away Molnar would be in trouble on his defensive side. Rarely could he hit the first ball hard with his anti to put pressure on Tickan or beg time to whip in one of his long-stroked loops.

            I tried to do my tongue-in-cheek little bit to help. Every time the Hungarian played facing me I’d take my jacket off to show my bright white shirt and when the Julich player was facing me I’d put my jacket back on. Sometimes, though, I’d forget to do this and Jean-Michel Saive, my Belgian friend, had to remind me, encourage me, to pursue such nonsense. Anyway, Molnar couldn’t win this match no matter what. Julich 2-Sparticus 0. 

Match #3—Plum-Klampar

            Klampar’s loop is ideal against topspin, but he can’t quite zing it in against underspin. However, in compensation against chop, he never misses. His stroke is more wristy, and he doesn’t come from down low to an upwards extension on his follow through. Against Plum he just placed the ball beautifully until the German returned one too high and the Hungarian put it away. Klampar is supposed to be a loony, but I’ve never seen a smarter player against chop. He’d play a short topspin into the forehand and then he’d quick go wide to the backhand. Often he’d loop directly into Plum’s stomach. No problem in the first for Klampar: 21-14.

            It was now break-time for me, so I went to get a soda. Of course I wasn’t the only one with this idea, so I had a little wait. As chance would have it, the millionaire was next to me—wanting to purchase a coke for the tidy little sum of $.35. So the Bogs gave a round out—a good investment, huh?

            Back now to the second game, and, looking at Klampar loop one by, I remembered I’d heard once how, while serving his required military time, he’d supposedly gone whacko and driven a tank through Budapest. Could he go whacko now? As the game wore on, Plum was putting up more resistance than expected and The Klamp didn’t seem his usual self. When, down 18-16, Plum scored a winner—sliced back a Klampar loop that had angled around the net—and the spectators started cheering him on, I could tell old memories were coming back into his head.

            Then, with Klampar leading 19-18, Plum killed the Hungarian’s loop and it was 19-all. Armed with some more hidden confidence, Plum served and unexpectedly looped in a winner. But no, from game-point up, he couldn’t quite do it. ‘Awwhh,’ said the crowd as, down 21-20, Plum risked a kill and missed. Julich 2-Sparticus 1.

            While I was strolling around waiting for the next match to start, some kid said to me, ‘I hear next year you’re playing on the first team.’ I just looked at him. What a dumb comment. With only one foreigner allowed on a team, and of course for the #1-2 slot, there was obviously no way I could play. People just talk; so often they have no idea of things. 

Match #4—Carlsson-Kriston

            In the beginning, the points between Carlsson and Kriston were just flying by—roller-coaster loop-the-loops. Each tried to fool the other with loops into the stomach and quick off-the-bounce spins down the line that were virtually untouchable. Down 18-16, Kriston served into the net, and in a moment the first game was Carlsson’s. Before the start of the next game they announced the Major League soccer half-time scores—with the crowd reacting as befitted their favorites.

            In the second game, Kriston’s forehand was beautiful to see—such graceful strokes. If Kriston thought that Tickan would play cross-court with his backhand, he’d step around the corner, aiming his long sweep of a forehand at the corner opposite. Correctly anticipating Kriston’s strategy, Carlsson would often play fast down the line, but even though Kriston was caught out of position and got to the ball late, he was still able to hook it back into play. The tide turned and Carlsson was no longer the aggressive warrior he’d been in the first. Kriston didn’t think much—he just went for as many big shots as possible, particularly his loop that faded away cross-court, and tied up the match.

            In the third, from 7-all, Carlsson resurrected the idea he’d had in the first game—to try to win the points as quickly as possible—and he served and followed for two winners. At which point Kriston became afraid and didn’t know what to do against Tickan’s short serve and follow. Down 14-10, Kriston backhand loop-killed a beauty. Oh no, I thought. Don’t let the man get hot now. But, no need to worry, suddenly his personality became one with his game: he froze, his game turned to ice. He just started missing shot after shot, and Tickan won easily. Julich 3-Sparticus 1. 

Match #5—Huging-Klampar

            Huging won the first point against Klampar, and, psyched out of his mind, began stamping on every push. But The Klamp was much too smooth, never made a mistake, and again and again coolly faked Bert out: 11-3…14-5….How could he lose?

            In the second game, with Klampar up 4-1, Engelbert shouted to self, ‘Man, you’re an ass!’—which made the crowd laugh. Then 6-1…forget it. I wanted to leave the bench to take another break, but I thought it a lack of respect for Huging. I mean he WAS fighting out there—it was just obvious he had no way to win: Klampar 21-10. Huging came back to the bench, said, ‘No chance. F—it.’ Julich 3—Sparticus 2. 

Match #6—Plum-Molnar

            There couldn’t be a better time for Plum to come out of the shadow of his teammates than in this match with Molnar. This was almost a MUST win for Julich. But the Hungarian started off by looping in winners—not a good sign. Poor Plum. Down 11-7, my ex-roomie began to realize that to win this match he’d have to take some chances and be aggressive. And with his sudden determination to attack and the crowd behind him, he started to get inspired. Now was the time for The Great Plum to do what—as in the final of the German Cup last year in Julich, in front of his people—he occasionally could do. Retrieving everything—picking up balls off the floor, reaching out into the stands—Plum suddenly caught fire. He was yelling encouragement to self and giving the fist after every whinnying point. Something in that brain of his sensed he could do it. And yet, even with all this show of thoroughbred spirit, Plum could only manage to stay 14-all even with Molnar.

            ‘Fight, Plumie!’ we yelled. ‘Yeah!’ he grunted in acknowledgement.

            Repeatedly the Hungarian waited unemotionally between points for the German who was taking his time. At 17-all, Plum failed to return serve, quickly lost another point. But down 19-17 he came back, killed in a winner. ‘Plumie! Plumie!’ the fans shouted. I started screaming. Jean-Michel was yelling something in French. None of the rest of us understood French—only the exhilarating idea of it all. The Great Plum, trying to do it, was now a sight to behold. Revivifying the old days of a year ago, at 19-all he was returning everything—and yet it seemed that no matter how hard he fought, how many balls he brought back, the evolution of the game had conquered him, physically and mentally. Against Darwinian odds he was defending his very species. Down 20-19 he slipped, but got back into the point—only frustratingly to lose it, 21-19.

            A bad break—a big game, very big. Plum, sensing his opportunity was lost, went over and smacked his racket against a barrier. He wanted so much to do it, gave it such a great try: the last 15 points were the best of the day. But now he was a defeated man. The Julich crowd screamed for a change—win the next one, Plumie! But you couldn’t reverse the reality of a chopper. Natural Selection in this Age of Technology was inevitable. Defender Plum had a great but short career. Julich 3-Sparticus 3. 

7th Match—Carlsson vs. Klampar

            And now, with the tie at 3-3, here was the Big one: Mr. Carlsson vs. Mr. Klampar. This is the one Julich HAS to win. But first the final results of the Bundesliga Soccer Matches are announced and enthusiastically commented on.

            Carlsson, serving and looping, got off to a 3-0 lead, but then, trying to keep Klampar from looping, he made some mistakes. After losing four in a row, Carlsson stopped play, asked for quiet. The Klamp, however, was impervious to Tickan’s short break and, after running seven in a row, was up 7-3. But now it was Carlsson’s serve again and he promptly followed one in. Klamp, afraid of a similar streak by his opponent, tensed up and failed to return serve. Then Carlsson got the Hungarian on a backhand-to-backhand exchange to pull to 7-6. But then, oh, oh, he served off. And Klampar, as if executing the textbook shot, right up-at-the-table loop-the-loop killed. That was what modern table tennis was all about. And suddenly now Carlsson was broken. After going ahead 3-0, he’d lost15 of the last 18 points and seemed very down and quite unsure of himself. The Hungarian, on the other hand, was gaining more and more confidence. Game to Klampar, 21-10.

            During the break it occurred to me that Klampar was the best ‘middle’ player in Europe—though actually his middle, like that of all righty attackers, favored his backhand side. Often instead of moving he merely leaned to the side, tucked in his stomach, and zipped the ball in.

            Ulf Bengtsson, I could see, was giving his Viking comrade some quick advice—perhaps, as the first few points of the second game would bear out, Tickan had to be far more aggressive. At 3-3, Klampar began having trouble with service return. Also he was just relentlessly playing Carlsson’s backhand and too predictably didn’t loop a ball to his forehand. Still he caught Tickan by surprise with a regular exchange—like fooling someone with an off-speed pitch.

            Klampar, however, was making some uncharacteristic errors and the Swede ran up a 10-5 lead. But then The Klamp, sending in some bullet loops, came climbing back, was 13-12 ever at the table’s edge. ‘He’s nervous now,’ someone was saying of Carlsson. ‘His confidence is gone.” But when Tickan served and loop-killed in, the Julich spectators again started getting into it. Now, as the Swede streaked, the fans shrieked. Carlsson: 21-15. One game each.

            In the third, the 1200 spectators couldn’t be more enthusiastic. What a great Cup this had turned out to be. Down 12-11, Klampar, pressed by Carlsson’s attack, was once again uncomfortably forced back from the table and—what! The Hungarian sent in a backhand winner that came from out of nowhere, prompting a voice from behind me to say, ‘How’d he do that?’ And indeed it was almost unbelievable. He’d killed it from practically off the floor. But then after such a great shot he failed to return serve. At 13-all Klampar blocked a loop off, and then, a little afraid, he high-spinned off. But now craftily he won a rare push-to-push point, and then caught Tickan by surprise with a fast spin.

            Coming into the end game, the Swede was trying to be the aggressor as if his life depended on it. It seemed, though, when he looped so fast he was at best only getting 50% in. If he can only make them at the end, I thought, he’ll win it. And then the match suddenly broke. At 16-all, Klampar couldn’t handle the spin, blocked off. Down 17-16, Klampar served off. Down 18-16, he missed a flip. Down 19-17, he blooped your basic loop. A bad time for him to have gone cold. Up 20-17, Carlsson killed in a winner, then went limb-crazy: reared up and down, pawed the air, while pandemonium circled round him. Julich 4-Sparticus 3. 

8th Match—Plum-Kriston

            ‘Plumie! Plumie!’ the crowd was screaming. Kriston’s first two loops were long, and then Plum killed one in—a very good start. Plumie seemed a little mellower this match, despite his thundering hoofs 5-1 start. But then Kriston started connecting on that first loop of his and Plum could not set himself to bring it back. Quickly it was 5-all. Now Plum tried to change the pace with kill, kill, on, off attempts. Soon, however, the shots were just rolling in for the Hungarian, and Plum, more and more talking to himself, was helplessly losing point after point. A 5-1 start, a 21-9 finish with Kriston playfully backhand looping down the line.

            Plum, a member of the German Team at the 1983 Tokyo World’s—having just been 20-4 looped into near extinction—was understandably totally upset with himself. Though his teammates tried to calm him down, he again smacked his racket against a barrier. And—would you believe it?—at this moment some idiot bent over the players’ bench to see what type of sponge Plum was using.

            The German took more time after that first game than he was allowed. (But did the Hungarians care? They looked like they didn’t care about anything.) On coming back to the table, Plum was immediately bombarded with loops like I’ve never seen: Kriston 5-0. Plum just had no chance. He threw his arms up, snorting at self or his bench—which, let’s face it, had no advice to give him.

            But then, strange, Plum reached out for something—he’d had enough. Stop! He went for his towel. When he came back to fight, wonder of wonders, Kriston missed a hanger. And now it seemed the Hungarian was a little too cool, for he let Plum sneak in a ‘kinder’ topspin, a real soft winner. Then Kriston lost another point, his third in a row. And when Plum pushed aggressively, Kriston blundered again. What was happening? But then the heavy loop machine rolled on. Down 12-7 would Plum give up? Nay. And Kriston, missing a high nothing ball, cooled to 13-11. NOW could Plum somehow rise to the occasion. He made a good try at a kill but missed. Then—oh!—he blew a hanger. It was all over for him.

            Or was it? For now came one of the greatest moments in sports I’ve ever seen Both Plum and the highly partisan spectators were incredibly dejected after those last two potential winners had turned into losers.—a four-point swing. But then, as when down 7-0 he’d done earlier this game, Plumie went for his towel. And suddenly there occurred a most astonishing thing: slowly, picking up speed, the spectators began clapping, giving Mr. Plum all that was left of their encouragement. The clapping continued, was joined by more and more clapping—coming from where? From no hall of reason. You’re losing, their uplifted hands chorused, and probably will lose, but we’re still behind you, Plumie. No matter how bad you are or what little chance you have, we’re with you all the way. I got goose pimples all over. Never have I seen such dedication, such love, from the fans. Within seconds, Plum was a changed man.

            He seemed filled with spirit—with the mystical soul of the fabled unicorn. He began chopping, and chopping so well that again and again Kriston had to push! And when he did Plumie came charging in with a winner. ‘YEAAAHHHH!’ Then, believe it or not, he turned the corner and looped a winner down the line. 15-all!

            Loop-kill/chop…loop-kill/chop—beautiful returns. Plum’s sidespin chop often had to be dropped by Kriston—but this one the Hungarian had dropped too high and Plum, thundering in, went for the kill. But, ohh, he missed, and fell to his knees. Now, however, Kriston looped one off. ‘YEAAHHH!’ 19-all. When a kid yelled out, ‘PLUMIE!’ everyone took up the chant. Kriston, though, just kept on sending them in…one too many for Plum—which brought an ‘Awwhh’ from the crowd. But then once again they started their clapping. They just wouldn’t give up on their Plumie. Only then, off a push. Kriston just casually, almost disdainfully, loop-killed a perfect winner down the line. End of Plumie’s hopes…dreams. Julich 4-Sparticus 4. 

9th Match—Huging-Molnar

            I shouldn’t write so many notes—should every second root the man on. Will the readers care about what I write? Will they learn anything about the way the Sport should be played, how it IS played among aficionados? They MUST care, MUST get excited—else they’ll be forever doomed to basement ping-pong. (There are so many metaphoric basements.)

            Molnar opened the match by looping, looping: Engelbert in response was chopping, chopping—stretching beyond to bring back the necessary return. Yes, yes, get this first one back, as if it might be the last—and ‘YEAAHHH!’ it caught the edge. Up went Engelbert’s fist and the shake of his mane. The fight, red in tooth and claw, had begun.

            In the beginning, Molnar was dogging it, irritated by Huging’s aggressive on-court behavior and the mirrored support of the crowd. The Hungarian looped off; dropped one in for a winner; missed a high no-spin ball—10 all. Molnar’s bullet-loop was on and off—but he made a damn good double-bounce drop. And then suddenly his loop was on too—18-15, Molnar. Now, however, the Hungarian missed two quick backhands. Then Huging killed in a winner, and, as if with wings, rode into the air. Molnar, out of it, missed another loop, but Huging’s chop went wide. At 19-all, again Molnar looped off—the pressure was getting to him. Down 20-19, he tried to high-spin one in, but it wasn’t even close. Huging, 21-19.

            Two easy mistakes to start the second game and Huging went loony. But then, talk about control, Chance didn’t say a word: for though, during the 2-1 point, our bench saw Molnar’s ball hit, the players and the umpire didn’t. As Molnar tightened up again, the crowd yelled, ‘Hueg! Hueg!’ and Huging, responding, killed one in. With his black Feint and long-legged strides, I could imagine him more of a healthy German breed than one of those horses he’d talked about earlier.

            Bringing everything back, and screaming his hoped-for way to victory, he was up 7-4. A loop by Molnar made it 7-5. But then Huging killed a ball, pushed Molnar’s block back, drew a high push in return, and killed it in—unbelievable. A loop-kill by Molnar followed. Then another kill by Huging—and up went the winged stallion of the spirit. Just as my imagination told me Huging was not about to chop a ball anymore, Molnar looped to Bert’s forehand, and you could tell Bert was gonna kill it, but then at the last minute he decided to just chop it back. Strange.

            Up 11-9, Huging hard-exchanged a forehand down the line for a winner, then  missed a chop. Then, fearing a weak return that would be rocketed away, he failed to return serve. C’mon, Engelbert! At 13-12 Huging, Bert’s chop return around the net caught Molnar unaware. Up 14-12, Engelbert missed two chops, then another trying to feint with the Feint. At 15-all, Molnar looped into the net. But then, bringing balls back ala Takashima, Huging was stopped by a drop—17-all.

            Loops by Molnar were met with blocks and chops until the Hungarian pushed one into the net. Down 18-17, Molnar missed a high loop. At 19-17, it went loop/chop, loop/chop, a high drop shot—and Huging killed it in. Way to go, Engelbert! Only one more. But at 20-17 triple-match-point, Huging missed a loop. Now some needed support-clapping for Bert.Then—dead silence. Why? Huging had failed to return two serves! 20-all.

            Now, though, with a flip and kill, Huging scored his fourth ad. But a Molnar loop, drop, and a gutsy winner down the line, followed by a laugh from Klampar, drew them all even again. This time Huging was forced to lob and lost the point. Ad to Molnar, who then looped in an edge, which, as Chance would have it, everyone saw.

            Not just Bert and me but the whole team felt like throwing up.

            At 1-1 in the 3rd, our side noticed the ball was cracked. ‘Never mind,’ I said, ‘it’s better for defense.’ At 3-2 Huging, the players brought in a new ball. Down 7-3, Molnar was like a stiff tree out there. He wanted to loop but just couldn’t send it in any more. Up 10-4 at the turn, Huging could hear the crowd urging him home: ‘Engelbert! Engelbert!’ But Molnar block-killed with his anti, Huging chopped first too high, then into the net. ‘Cho!’ grunted Huging, trying to psych himself up before the point. But a bullet by the Hungarian closed the score to 11-9. And suddenly the Hungarian was loose.

Huging skidded one in to make it 12-10. Molnar matched this though with a good drop and an angled-in winner. Down 13-11, Molnar pushed a nasty Feint-ball into the net—a big point. Down 14-11, Molnar served and loop-killed, cross-court as always. ‘COME ON!’ grunted Huging. But again Molnar killed cross-court. Up 14-13, Huging looped in a long serve. Then Molnar looped off the edge of his racket. Now Huging pushed one off. Then, despite encouraging clapping, Huging popped up a Molnar drop, and it was 16-15…16-all. An amazing match, an amazing tie. Maybe not the ‘Best of the Century’—but good enough for even the experienced innocent.

            A quck topspin by Huging, and Molnar, surprised, anti’d it into the net. But then he balanced by looping one in. At 17-all, Molnar missed a serve, then looped off, then fanned one completely. Same 20-17 finish coming up again? I hoped not. Then…No!—Huging failed to return serve! Failed to return serve again! I started to feel sick Was it possible… Deathly silence at 20-19. Molnar served deep, Huging backhand chopped, and Molnar looped off.

            Chaos! Everybody—and I mean everybody—emptied into the court to greet the victorious arm-raised Huging. He didn’t even get a chance to shake Molnar’s hand. Finally Bert was able to sit down next to me among the madness and confusion. ‘Go shake the man’s hand,’ I told him. Bert walked back into the court with his teammates, and I saw them go shake Molnar’s hand as he came walking toward our bench. He smiled, shook the substitutes’ and trainer’s hands, then looked at me, smiled, and shook my hand. How could he smile and keep smiling? But I remembered reading how, when the U.S. Hockey Team won the Olympics, an American player said one of the Russians he shook hands with had a smile on his face.

            When Huging came back I asked him if I could borrow 20 DM. ‘Yes,’ he said. Then I accompanied him to the locker room where everyone of course was flying high. I asked Bert if I could borrow his car. ‘Yes,’ he said. I know when to ask, huh?

            I then drove to a friend’s house to watch The Sport Show, to see Huging on TV—for the tapes were being driven, as if on the wings of poetry, of Pegasus, by some high-speed car to Koln where the show was to be aired.

            My friend, who also saw the match, greeted me at the door and said, ‘Amazing. Just amazing.’

            ‘Aw,’ I said, ‘I’ve seen horses throwing up.’ 

            [Although there’ll be no write-up, only a note (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 8), I can tell you Carlsson, Huging, and Plum will go on to win the European Cup final. “They’ll beat the Czech team of Broda, Broda, and Javurek 5-3 before 700 spectators in Czechoslovakia. Julich supporters drove 26 hours each way to cheer their team to a down 3-1, come-from-behind victory. It was a solid team effort—with Carlsson and Huging winning two matches and Plum one.”]           

            Given Kasia Dawidowicz’s indispensible input, especially as to her experiences in Poland, I was able (Timmy’s, May, 1984, 8) to write up the Polish Open, played Mar. 9-11 at Poznan: 

            “Earlier this season, Kasia Dawidowicz had gone to Sweden to play some key League matches for Nisse Sandberg’s Angby Club. Her stay had not been long, for since many young women in the Swedish League have small children and can’t always conveniently get away from home, round robin matches are not held weekly, as they are for men, but on certain designated weekends. Each team might then play on the one weekend as many as three ties. Unfortunately, Kasia’s win some, lose some record was not good enough to save the Angby women from slipping into the Second Division.

But she enjoyed the practice (Canada’s Horatio Pintea was one of her sparring partners), and was very comfortable staying with the kind, companionable Waller family—daughters Lena and Marie (accompanied by mother Maud) have played in U.S. Opens. Indeed, with the Polish Open coming up, Kasia couldn’t resist returning to Stockholm for more practice, more fun company—and this time with her 2 and ½-year-old son Michael in hand. ‘I like living in Sweden,’ says Kasia. ‘It seems like there are nice green parks everywhere. If I want to play soccer with Michael in Denver I have to get in the car and drive for a quarter of an hour.’

And when had Kasia been in her native Poland last? In 1979. She’d gone there to get some practice before the World’s. In fact, she’d hoped to accompany the Polish Team to Pyongyang, but was subject to so much red-tape interrogation she had to give it up.

And was there anyone else from the U.S. prepared to draw aside the Curtain—enter this Polish Open? Bohdan, Kasia’s father, of course. And Germany-based Scott Boggan and Mike Bush. That is, until—surprise—Israel’s earlier casual all-expenses-paid invitation to Scott unexpectedly became official and Scott couldn’t pass that up. Which left Bush to partner the Dawidowiczes. Until (1) Eric Boggan was also invited to Israel and (2) the day before Scott was to leave for Tel Aviv, his 35-3 League record came abruptly to an end, for while playing soccer with some other players, he half-crashed, half-slid into a sharp-edged obstruction, sliced his leg open just above the knee-cap, and, stitching himself into a half-hearted, happy-go-lucky grin, came limping home to the U.S. three weeks before season’s end.

Which meant that Scott’s all-paid-for ticket to Israel would now be picked up by Mike—who, instead of having to pay his way to partner Bohdan in Posnan, would at little or no expense team up with Eric in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, no Team play then in Posnan for Bohdan, and no hoped-for post-tournament ‘U.S. vs. Poland’ international play for both Kasia and Bohdan.

As it happened, the Chinese Team, too, was forced to change their plans. Why? Because of the sudden transportation strike in France. The visiting Chinese were caught and couldn’t get to Posnan in time for the Team events.

The Russians were dominant—beat the North Koreans in the finals of both the Men’s and Women’s Teams. Teenager Mazunov had two big wins. The first in the semi’s over Vladislav Broda (the Czech #1 who, along with Waldner, came into this tournament—the last of the Norwich Grand Prix events—leading the Circuit with 1800 points). Mazunov’s second win was over Chu Jong Chol (the #1 North Korean)—but he got a big assist in this tie from Podnosov who beat Li Gun Sang, 19 in the 3rd, and also Chu.

The Russians (Bulatova and Antonian) won the Women’s Team event over Romania, 3-0. But if Bulatova/Antonian had not won the doubles against North Korea’s Li Bun Hi/Kim Yong Hi, 23-21 in the 3rd, they would have lost in the semi’s, 3-2.

Eager though defensive-minded Bohdan must have been to play in the Men’s Singles after just sitting around watching the Team play, he, alas, opened against (or, no, that can’t be right), drew, in the first round the aforementioned Chu Jong Chol (whose win over German Champ Grubba in the semi’s of the Team’s helped North Korea reach the final) and promptly got 21 points.

            As for Kasia, she did well, won her first Singles match before losing in four to the Pole Djaczynska. And not a moment too soon either. For while she was out there playing, young Michael had taken her wallet from her bag and, opening it up, had begun giving money out to all the little kids he was playing with.

            Father and daughter lost the Mixed Doubles to that same Djaczynska and partner, but in the Women’s Doubles Kasia teamed with the Hungarian Pircsak to get to the 8th’s before falling to an East German pair. In the Men’s Doubles, Bohdan and his Polish partner Florezak showed a Chinese North Korean pair how to win the first at deuce—then lost the second and third games at 3 and 8. Bewildering, huh?

            Naturally the Chinese men and women were Singles winners—though the Europeans did come through once, when home favorites Grubba and Kucharski took the Men’s Doubles from Men’s Singles runner-up Wang Huiyuan/Xu Zeng Hai. Actually, the Polish men were at the center of the most exciting spectator matches. Little known Konopczynski lost to North Korean Hong Son Il in five; the Polish #3 Dryszel got by Hungary’s Simon, 23-21 in the 5th; Poland’s #2 Kucharski downed Romania’s Fajer in the fifth; and in the 8th’s Russia’s #1 Mazunov continued his spirited play with a 23-21 five-game sneaker over Grubba—this after the #1 Pole had been down 16-5 in the fifth.

The eventual Men’s winner, Jiang Jialiang, World #3, had a couple of interesting, not to say precarious, matches. First, with the Czech #1 Vladislav Broda (-13, -19, 22, 16, 12) back in the 16th’s; and later in the quarter’s with Cho Jong Chol (25-23 in the 4th). The Women’s winner of course was World Champion Cai Yanhua over North Korea’s Kim Yong Hi in five and then over her winning Women’s Doubles partner Ni Xia Liang, 23-21 in the 4th. Cai, paired with Wang Huiyuan, also took the Mixed—from China’s Jiang/Ni.

            After the tournament, Kasia was sick in bed for a week with the flu—which of course Michael had too. ‘I was worried,’ said Kasia, ‘because I was sure Poland was short on medicine. Also, it bothered me that I couldn’t make a phone call out of Poland and that two out of every three telegrams I sent or that were sent to me were never received.’

            Was it a handicap taking Michael on such a trip? ‘No,’ said Kasia, ‘because I so enjoyed his company. But the hotel room I was originally assigned had just two beds and a sink in it. And I had to tell an official or two that Michael and I just couldn’t stay there. My little one has to take a bath every day, and I certainly wasn’t gonna have him share a communal tub—he might have picked up something a lot worse than the flu. So they were nice and I got a room with a bath in another hotel.’

            All in all, was Kasia glad she’d gone to Poland? Yes, she was—she hadn’t been back for five years and wanted to know just how bad things were there. ‘I was an innocent,’ she said. ‘I thought people would have more power—more protesting power.’

            She spoke of how the average person was allowed 30 liters of gas for a month—and how gas prices were going up. Also there was a water shortage—no water after midnight was the rule. ‘You might as well party until 5:00 a.m….when you can take your shower,’ she said—I think jokingly. Booze was very expensive. The average Pole earns $8,000-$10,000 a month Polish money—a liter of vodka costs $1,700.

            There’s a real food problem in Poland. I don’t mean just little things either (once Kasia got Michael a hot dog and he wanted mustard—but when Kasia asked for it, she heard, ‘MUSTARD! Lady, where have you been? We haven’t had mustard here for a year.’ Complained Kasia, ‘If you, a visitor, buy something with your American dollars that’s rationed it makes you feel you’re being rude to the average person—it makes you feel bad.’

            And yet the restaurants in Poland are doing a very good business, Maybe the reason for this, said Kasia, is that ‘it’s just easier to go out to eat than wait in line six hours for meat, wait in another line for vegetables, and so on, all the while listening to people who’re getting more than a little edgy.’

            Did the people still keep the faith? I asked Kasia. ‘This is a 90% Catholic country,’ she said—‘but it’s my impression that a neighbor will sell a neighbor here for a dime. It’s the law of the jungle here—self-survival. This is not to say of course that my Polish friends and I didn’t laugh and joke. But the question everyone asks me is, ‘How can I get to the U.S.?’” 

            English Closed Champions: Men’s: Final: Douglas d. Sandley, 17, 7, -20, 16 (after escaping Cooke, 10, -17, 12, -19, 11 in the semi’s). Best Quarter’s: Cooke d. Day (from down 2-0 and deuce in the third). Women’s: Gordon d. L. Bellinger, 11, -21, 15, 16. Men’s Doubles: Douglas/Day d. Prean/Parker, 23, 8. Women’s Doubles: Gordon/Sainsbury d. Grundy/Parker, 19, -19, 14. Mixed Doubles: Andrew/Moore d. Eckersley/Grundy, 14, 17. Veterans (Over 40): Schofield d. Moran, 11, 13. 

            French Closed Champions: Men’s: Renverse d. Secretin, 13, -22, 12, 7. Quarter’s to note: Campagnolle d. Birocheau (from down 2-0), 23-21 in the 5th. Women’s: Abgrall (after outlasting Monteux, 26-24 in the 5th) d. Germian, 14, 12. Men’s Doubles: Secretin/Gernot d. Renverse/Parietti, 8, 10. Women’s Doubles: Daviaud/Monteux d. Aubry/Delepine, 13, 12. Mixed Doubles: Parietti/Daviaud d. Renverse/Abgrall, 19, -13, 7. 

            Engelbert Huging (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 8) covers the German Closed: 

            “Peter Engel, just turned 30, won three tough matches at the German Closed to become their National Men’s Champion.

            Against me in the quarter’s he was 18-17 down in the 5th. I had hoped that Peter, who likes to have a beer now and then, would show a lack of endurance—but it never happened. Instead, it was I who had a 20-second ‘blackout’ (much as if I’d had one too many vodka-tonics with my roommate Scott Boggan). I just forgot to concentrate—made two costly mistakes, twice pushing the ball over what was suddenly much too low a net.

            In the semi’s, Engel beat former Champion George Boehm, deuce in the 5th. Leading 20-17, triple-match-point, Peter fell victim to a no-no—began thinking about winning and started ‘wishing’ himself home. But at 20-all he got himself together to take the last two points.

            In the final against Ralf Wosik, Germany’s perennial #2, Peter was 1-1 in games and down 11-5 in the 3rd, but from there came back to win, 18 in the 4th.

            Now, as the German Champion, will Engel be going to the European’s in Moscow? Said Peter, ‘Last year, although I was the German #5, the Association didn’t pick me for the Team to Tokyo. After that, I wrote them stating that I didn’t want to play for Germany any more. Now I can’t say, “Yes, I’ll go to Moscow because of course I’d lose face.”’ However, after his win over Boehm in the semi’s, Association representatives asked him again if he wouldn’t play on the German Team to the European’s, and for a moment he relented. But then when he won the Championship, he again reversed himself and decided to hold fast to his original decision.

            Lucky for me—because the Association then picked the following players to go to Moscow: Wosik, Stellwag, Boehm, Lieck (back on the Team at 38!), and me.

            The German Women’s Champion, who’d also won the German Top 10 (without losing a game) is Susanne Wenzel, 20. She defeated Kirsten Kruger, #10 in Europe, in the final, 3-0.” 

            Mike Bush (Timmy’s, June, 1984, 8) covers the Israeli Open, held Mar. 11-12 in the Hfar Maccabiah Sports Complex in Tel Aviv: 

            “This was a Championship like no other I’ve played in. It was a six-day all-expenses-paid trip where friendship was put in front of competition—at least by the organizing committee, or, well, at least on the days we weren’t competing in the Hall where competition found its home again. So we had much time to enjoy the fine hospitality afforded us. Eric Boggan and I, like most other players, arrived on the Thursday before the Open, which was to be held on the following Sunday and Monday. The weather wasn’t so nice, very cloudy, but there was warmth and it was a refreshing change from the coldness of Bundeesrepublik Deutschland.

            On the first evening Eric and I were taken to a local pub by two Israeli men, Dror Polak and Yacob Bogen (pronounced Boggan). There we tasted spicy delicacies, drank beer and pina coladas, and gazed at the dark-complexioned people around us. I felt the intensity of pride of a people who have survived against all odds and hate that have followed them through history, a people who built up their country out of the sand and rocks of neglect, and fought hard for their independence, which was taken away from their ancestors 2000 years ago, while the world watched with closed eyes.

             On Saturday all the players went on a tour of the ancient cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. On the Mount of Olives, we saw trees over 1,000 years old and people kissing the stone where the crucified Jew, Joshua (Jesus Christ), supposedly sweated blood. In an Arab souvenir shop I pointed to a key-rack with ‘Jerusalem’ painted on it and jokingly told the Dane Claus Pedersen that if he wanted to get into Jerusalem he’d better buy a key to the city. The Arab proprietor told me without humor that I was a too-smart Jew. I exclaimed to Claus that here was a prime example of the anti-semitism and friendly Arab one hears about. 

            My comment to Claus triggered something in this Arab’s brain that showed me he was a desecrator of all religions, somebody who made it his business to exploit tourists in the Holy Land. He spewed his hate out at me. I made a few calm retorts, and then Claus and I made our way back to the bus shaking our heads. In Jerusalem we visited many sights, including the Western Wall and the remains of the destroyed Temple of the Israelites.

            Back at our hotel we took it easy. That evening we watched the movie ‘The Sting,’ then went to bed.

            The next morning the Team event started promptly at 9:00 a.m. The format guaranteed us a full day’s play. There were two round robin groups, four teams in each. Play was Davis-Cup style (two singles, followed by a doubles, followed, if necessary to secure the needed three wins, by two more singles). The two best teams in each group would advance to a criss-cross semi’s, and the winners would play the final. Group A consisted of Sweden, Denmark, Luxemburg, and Israel “B.” Group B teams were USA, Israel “A,” Finland, and Israel Youth.

            In our first tie against Finland I started against Jokinen, a quick, Swedish-style-on-the-table topspinner and change-of-pace blocker. He used his hand more than his body to control the table while I was back fishing balls out of the angles in a lethargic fog of morning that wouldn’t let my mind out of its grasp. I felt like I was in slow motion, reactionless. It was a quick and painless death—1-0 to Finland.

            Against the tricky serves and attack, but relatively weak defense, of chopper Ikonen, Eric was too good. Eric rarely used his block that Ikonen’s attack couldn’t penetrate, instead overpowered him with aggressive topspins and kills that poked holes in the tall, gangly man’s long pips and inverted-rubber defense. Tie: 1-1.

            [Apparently, Eric and Mike lost the doubles in this tie—perhaps so badly Mike didn’t want to write about it. Onward.]

            In the fourth match, Jokinen had no clue as to how to play against Eric’s unusual style. His face had a contorted expression of bewilderment from the first point to the handshake at the end.

            In the fifth match, I concentrated on controlling Ikonen’s attack and forcing him to play defense. The strategy worked well and he was never in the match. It was like shooting ducks at an amusement park as I aimed bullet loops and smashes at his playing arm’s elbow.

            In our second tie, we were pitted against the inspired Youth team from Israel. We won 3-1. We lost the doubles in which Eric and I struggled [again?] to find motivation. The young Israelis, however, were fired up, along with the audience that drove them on to victory. However, the singles—two for me, one for Eric—we won easily.

            Meanwhile, Israel “A” was playing an important tie for us against Finland. We hoped that Israel would win so that in case we lost to Israel we’d still be guaranteed a spot in the semi’s. Up 2-1, Israel was looking good. Yacob Bogen, the 21-year-old Israeli Champion with a McEnroe-type lefty forehand, was leading Jokinen, the spinner, 20-16 in the third. But the one point he needed to give his team the win didn’t come. And luck was against him. At deuce, he went ad down to an unreturnable net, then lost the last point to an edge ball.

            In the fifth match, Ikonen’s defense was once again penetrated unmercifully—this time by Dror Polak, the 27-year-old ex-Israeli Champion who hadn’t been able to defend his title this year due to his military commitments. This victory set up a dramatic USA-Israel “A” B Group final that the spectators were drooling for.

            In the A Group final, Sweden went for the quick victory against Denmark. They played their #1 player, world-class Jonny Akesson, in the #2 position. The strategy couldn’t have been better. Greczula, opening for Sweden, dominated Denmark’s Harkamp, Akesson demoralized Pedersen, and the Swedes won the doubles—a 3-0 advance for Sweden.

            The USA-Israeli ‘A’ tie was as dramatic as the spectators could ask for. It went the limit and practically all matches were close. I began against Polak in what was to be a key match. Dror is a big guy and his style resembles that of Kjell Johansson. He counters hard, blocks well, has a quick, clean topspin, and an awesome flat kill. His power expressed to me clearly that I had to force my attack at all costs. My serves and spin game gave him a lot of trouble. We exchanged points throughout the first game. He was up 20-19 when I went for an all-out topspin with my forehand off his opening backhand topspin. It just caught the corner, so I took the game at deuce, Eric gave me some words of encouragement, and I started out the second game well. All my shots were connecting. I was controlling the pace, and it seemed I couldn’t lose. But when I was up 16-10, the tables turned. Dror fought his way back and made some great shots to take the game at deuce.

            In the third, like the second, I controlled the first two-thirds of the game and again it seemed like I couldn’t lose. But once again Dror didn’t give up, and, down 18-11, he ran a streak of points. Up 18-17, I had serve and was as aggressive as I could be. I tried to put everything I had into my serves, and, up 19-17 and 20-19, I served off. At deuce he got a net/edge that I sacrificed the skin on my knee to return, only to see him crack in a backhand to an empty table. Up match point, he missed a relatively easy set-up after a long point. I forced my attack for the ad, and up match point I was at the barriers lobbing. Somehow I scrounged out the point with a slimy sidespin chop, off a weak drop-shot, that he whiffed. USA 1-Israel ‘A’ 0.

            In the second match, Boggan came up against Bogen who had beaten Eric quite easily in a training session only two days earlier. But the Boggan of practice has no resemblance to the tournament Boggan, in fight, concentration, or level of play. Even though Bogen played Boggan very well, it was Boggan who was always in command. Eric kept the ball low and well-placed and stayed on top of Yacob. Putting constant pressure on him, he was quick to take advantage of weak balls. Two straight for Eric, and two straight matches for our team.

            In the doubles, Eric and I were still lacking that magic ingredient that could make us click as we had in the Hungarian and German Opens. Whether it was concentration, motivation, or, maybe, the inability to accept the fact that doubles was just as important as singles in this situation, we did not win a singles doubles match in the Team event. USA 2-Israel ‘A’ 1.

            In the fourth match I played a fired-up Bogen. Somehow the fire of spirit and the quickness I had felt during my match with Polak had been dampered sometime during the doubles match. I didn’t feel like I was playing too well, but on another day when I saw a video-taping of the match I realized that hadn’t been the case. Instead, my mistake had been that I seemed to have concentrated more on complaining than on fighting to win the match. Anyway, sitting in the comfort of the filmer’s room, I didn’t need to see an instant replay of me leaving the table frustrated and mumbling to remind me that I had lost both games at deuce. Tie 2-2.

            This time it was Eric who had the anchor-man spot and I tried to relax as I watched what I thought would be a clear-cut victory. But Dror had other intentions. Like his ancient ancestor David who went out to fight the giant Goliath, Dror must also have felt that this was a do or die situation, and he showed no respect for Eric’s 18th-in- the- world ranking as he exchanged blow for blow with him. Dror was playing power t.t.—spinning and smashing from both sides, patiently waiting for the slower-paced anti-floater that Eric couldn’t keep down against the flat, raw drives that Polak was scoring with.

            However, Eric quickly came to the realization that his blocking game wasn’t going to win the match for him. So he started forcing his own attack and cracked in more than a few forehands himself. It seemed that, no matter what either of them did, neither could take control of the match. They traded the first two games and throughout the third neither could produce a two-point lead. Down 14-13, Eric turned to me and said, ‘This guy is playing world-class!’ Somehow, hearing this old cliché coming from Eric made me smile to myself and I thought thankfully that Eric is world-class and if he fights it out we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

            Finally, at 15-all, with the luck of two nets in a row, Eric opened up a lead that he wasn’t about to give up. Dror, unlike his Biblical ancestor, was forced to accept that the miracles of yesteryear have no place in the technological world of the present, and, anyway, whoever heard of a battlefield with a net on it. Up 20-18, Eric drove in a mighty forehand that penetrated Dror’s heart. He staggered a moment, then dropped to his knees in defeat.

            The momentum of Eric’s forehand propelled us full force into a semifinal tie against the Danes, which we smashed into head on. We played the same strategy as the Swedes, went for the quick lead and victory by playing our #1 in the second position, but it backfired on us, and we lost 3-0.

            I dropped the opener to Harkamp in three after winning the first easily. Eric then

came against the old Viking, Claus Pedersen, a topspinner from both wings whose shots have tremendous spin and velocity. Eric had felt that the match was his, like ‘money in the bank,’ but Claus, at 34, with more than a dozen National Singles Championships, showed us that he is still a world-class player not to be taken lightly. Match to Pedersen. As for the doubles…forget it!

            In the other semifinal, a big upset was underway. The Swedes had led 2-1 in matches against Israel before losing in five. In the opening match Bogen played out of his mind to beat Akesson. The Swedish coach told reporters at a press conference that Greczula, the 20-year-old topspinner, had this tournament as a chance to prove he was worthy of a spot on the Swedish National Squad. In the second match, he came back from match-point down to defeat Polak and even up the tie at 1-all. In the doubles the Swedes were clearly better. Then came the second shock. Polak pounded relentlessly through Akesson’s awesome topspin attack and defense.

The match was tied at 2-2 when Greczula and Bogen met at the table. Topspin rallies were the usual exchange. There were fought-for leads, and great comebacks. By the time Bogen had scored his 19-in-the-3rd victory, the partisan spectators had chewed their fingernails to the bone and screamed their throats raw.

  The Team final was an anticlimactic 3-0 victory for Denmark. A fatigued Bogen lost easily to Harcamp, Pedersen beat Polak deuce in the 3rd, and the Danes ran away with the doubles.

            In the first round of the Singles, Eric beat Israel’s Shnio, 3-0. In his second match he had just a little trouble with the psyched-up Israeli Azulai who, to the delight of the audience, amusingly exchanged screams with Eric who didn’t see anything funny in their four-game struggle. In the quarter’s, Eric was a lock against the standard European style of Denmark’s Harkamp and won 3-0.

However, Eric was stopped surprisingly in the semi’s by Greczula. The Swede played marvelously. He spun strong from both sides and gave Eric little chance to attack. Eric had found it impossible to concentrate as he would have liked to and it probably cost him the match. He had led 20-19 match-point in the 4th and 19-16 in the 5th before losing. The points were long, the Swede controlling the pace with his backhand and forehand topspins, and showing good touch and reaction against Eric’s anti. The fifth game was a heartbreaker for Eric. He was leading match-point more than once, and fighting back from match-point down a few times. Greczula was the winner: -16, 19, -15, 20, 25.

            On the other side of the draw I made it as far as the quarter’s. In the first round I played Levi, this year’s finalist in the Israeli National Championships. He’s a chopper with inverted and long pips, and it was a routine 3-0 victory for me. In the second round I played the Finnish chopper Ikonen once again. It was an easy win for me, even though I did manage to lose the third game.

            In the quarter’s, I faced the lefty spinner and touch player Akesson, the 19-year-old Swede. I played him very well, though I couldn’t pull off a victory. Akesson’s style gives one the impression that he’s almost lazy, but that’s an illusion. He uses his very talented hand to control play and is most comfortable 4-6 feet back from the table (the European terminology for this position is ‘half-distance,’ and some players who favor it are Dvoracek, Secretin, and Appelgren).

Akesson almost teasingly catches his opponents’ topspins and sends then back hooking in the most unusual and marvelous ways, not unlike Appelgren. His serve-and-follow game is very effective, due not to the power of his attack, rather because of his deceptive high-toss serve and the change of spin, pace and placement of his following topspin. On my serve I was doing o.k., but when he served I was in trouble. If I could block his opening topspin and then the topspin that followed, I was able to force him to drop back (or was it voluntary on his part?) and play topspin defense. At this attained point I became a favorite in the continuing play, though I sometimes had to smash as many as 15 times to win the point. Down 2-1 in games, I’d led 20-19 before losing (-19, -17, 17, -21).

In the Doubles, Eric and I barely made it by two 14-year-olds in three games. We eventually lost in the quarter’s to Polak/Bogen, 19 in the 3rd.

            We were both eliminated from the tournament and retired to the spectator stands. We had another two days left in Israel and spent them enjoying ourselves—seeing sights and spending time with friendly t.t. players.

            Both Eric and I would like to thank our gracious host Yosef Yeshua and the Israeli Table Tennis Federation for making this trip so personally memorable.”           

SELECTED NOTES.

*In a Butterfly Table Tennis Report about this time, Hungarian Coach Zoltan Berczik remarks how the play of 1979 World Team Champions Jonyer, Gergely, and Klampar was gradually declining. He says: 

“Jonyer opened a small sport shop, a retail store, and his business was taking a lot of his time. Because of this, his training was reduced significantly. Also, his play became slow and unsure due to his ever-increasing weight.

Gergely had to spend a lot of time at home because his wife opened a hair-dresser shop, and he had to look after their three children. Every year now his preparation’s been insufficient, and his performance disappointing.

Klampar wants to keep up his game, but his constant suspensions make him less and less available for tournaments.”

[However, Kriston and Molnar have done heavy duty for the Hungarian National Team, and, being formidable players, have often acquitted themselves well.]