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History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 14: 1985-86

CHAPTER THREE 

1985: Danny Wins Fourth Western Japan Open. 1985: SPIN’s Final Installments of Sue Butler’s 1984 “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” Dinner in Beijing. 1985: European Tournaments. 1985: Canadians Win Medals at Commonwealth Championships. 1985: Sports Illustrated Spotlight on Eric Boggan. 

            I’ll begin here by following up on my last chapter’s reference to Danny playing in his annual Western Japan Open. Butterfly’s Dick Yamaoka again does the honors (SPIN, Apr., 1985, 14): 

            “How big is a Western Japan Open?” asked Zoltan Berczik, former Head Coach of the World Championship Hungarian Team, now working for the Tamasu Co. He’d entered this tournament (the Veterans event)—the first one he’d played in for the last 16 years.

            “About 1,500 players’ll participate,” said our Danny Seemiller.

            “It can’t be,” said Berczik. “I was in Yanai before and I know it’s a small town.”

            “It is,” said Danny. “But they draw so many players they have to use three halls for the tournament.”

            This conversation was taking place on the Shinkansen, the bullet train that carried us from Tokyo to Hiroshima on February 9th. As we went on to Yanai, still quite a distance by train away, Berczik and Seemiller continued their lively talk on all aspects of table tennis—Danny particularly was in good spirits.

            About six hours later, however, I detected a noticeable change in Danny’s appearance. Obviously he wasn’t feeling well. He tried his best to hide his discomfort, but without success. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat wearily.

            When we arrived in Yanai, he managed to keep his composure until settled in his hotel. But when I visited him a little later in his darkened room, I found that he’d gone straight to bed and seemed to want to stay there. That night he threw up several times and did not eat dinner. It appeared he might not be able to play.

            Next day the tournament started with doubles—and Seemiller was there. His partner was Suetsugo, a college player who, like Danny, was a lefthander. I have seen Danny play with another lefty only once—and that was with Stipancic of Yugoslavia in this same tournament three years ago. Stipancic is known for his excellent backhand, but has powerful shots off both wings and can put a ball away from either side. Suetsugo is slender and quick on his feet. But he has a weak backhand and has to cover a lot of ground with his forehand. His style is very familiar to the Japanese and his shots were often returned and sometimes even countered. Quite often he could not end the rallies. [How did Seemiller, an annual celebrity and favored singles contender, get paired up with this not too strong college player?]

            As I see it, the strongest point in Danny’s doubles play is his ability to maneuver for a setup. Danny and brother Ricky have won many doubles titles. You have probably seen Ricky bang the ball in hard many times as if he were the one who’d win their matches single-handedly. Yet the credit should be given to Danny for setting up those shots. Danny is the chance-maker, Ricky the executor. That familiar pattern did not work in this partnership. In order for Suetsugo to play his game he had to move a lot. This also meant that Danny had to move a lot, and footwork is not Danny’s strong point. Danny had to play the role of executor quite often. Instead of showing their strong points, they played doubles by covering their weak points. This was certainly not the winning style. They lost in the semi’s to the eventual winners, Nagase and Kawasaki.

            It appeared, though, that the doubles play gave Seemiller a new stroke. Normally against a short chop, Danny pushes it back carefully. However, in the doubles he was forced to attack first—even against a short ball that he would not normally open off of—and he had a high rate of success. Once Suetsugo served a series of short balls, and against the short returns Danny killed five straight; and a couple of other times he got four balls in for four points. He must have fensive mind he could get more points. This helped him in the singles matches the next day.

            Seemiller was expected to win the tournament. It was his seventh appearance here and the other players had analyzed his style well and were gunning for him. They played their best matches against Danny, and came at him in three ways.

            They attacked Danny deep to his forehand corner. He can’t cover that corner well because for a shake-hands player he stands at the backhand side of the table. When he managed to get his racket on the ball [many times he couldn’t even do that?], it was not an effective shot and they jumped on it.

            They successfully exchanged drives with Danny. Often his opponents returned spin-drives so that he could not hit hard. When he blocked, they top-spinned the ball back a little harder each time, and so maintained control.

            They let Danny push first and then attacked his push. When Danny sees two ways of handling a shot, instinctively or not, he chooses the safer way. Against a short chop, he pushes it back. When his push is short, they push it back short. When his push is a shade long, they attack. Since his opponents had faster footwork, they opened first more.

            [So how, if his opponents can play like this against Danny, does he win?]

            In the quarter’s, Seemiller played Odono who practiced these three attack strategies well. Odono varied his serves, mixing in cross-court fast backhand ones that passed Danny. When Odono attacked first, he put his topspin to Danny’s backhand, then attacked his forehand. He also jumped on Danny’s anti-pushes. (In the last two years, many penholder players have begun using a combination racket and so are familiar with anti shots and have adjusted to them.)

            Also, Odono was anticipating that Seemiller would hit to his backhand, so when Danny did that, Odono slammed the ball back hard with his backhand with surprising consistency. Often Odono served short, and when Danny pushed the ball back short, Odono pushed it back long to Danny’s backhand side. Odono then waited with his big forehand for Danny’s push return. With the Seemiller grip, it was difficult to push the ball back with a sharp angle and Odono knew this. He attacked every one of Danny’s second pushes. If Danny moved to his backhand and top-spinned, Odono blocked the ball back quick to the forehand.

            Odono moved and attacked. He played a near perfect first game and led 19-11. Everyone thought the game was over. Odono played conservatively with this lead and Seemiller played as if there was no pressure on him. When the score went to 20-13 Odono’s favor, Danny was thinking only attack and he came back to deuce the game. It was a see-saw battle until Danny won it, 25-23. This was the greatest comeback I have ever seen.

              The second game started differently. Danny came out aggressively and shocked Odono while establishing a comfortable lead at 17-13. Danny must have sensed victory, but perhaps unconsciously he began to play conservatively, and Odano tied it up at 18-all. But then Seemiller took the offense again and barely won this match-deciding game, 21-19.

Danny’s semi’s opponent was Nishimura, a tall, left-handed offensive top-spinner. Danny does not like to play this type of player for two main reasons: (1) Most lefthanders have outside spin drives while Danny’s are inside/outside, like with a golf ball that’s been sliced. That is, as Danny swings his forehand, his left shoulder turns to the right while his elbow stays close to his body.

When I see him play I can’t help but recall the forehand swing of tennis pro Jimmy Connors. If there is a weakness to Connor’s game it would be his forehand stroke. Because of the swing, the shot is slightly unsteady. The same can be said about Danny’s forehand. A hooked drive breaking to the outside forces Danny to cover his forehand corner more. And the wide forehand is one of his weak points. Danny exposes his weakness more against a lefthander than he does against a righthander. [This is a strange ‘How to Beat, er, Almost Beat Danny Seemiller” article: again and again the emphasis is on how Danny’s opponents recognize his weaknesses, how they score against him…but then it’s Danny who without much explanation advances against them.]

Then there’s a lefty’s backhand. Generally, a lefthander is strong on the backhand side and Danny’s shots are less effective against him. Nashimura attacked Danny’s forehand corner, causing Danny to move more toward the center of the table to cover the play to his forehand. Within the rallies Danny used his anti to alter the pace of the ball. His anti shots were so dead that Nishimura couldn’t take the offense, even though he knew the balls coming at him were hit with anti. Danny won the match two straight, 16 and 18.

In the other semi’s, Nagase defeated Hasegawa. Nagase is a penhold twiddler. He uses anti well—which means he knows how to play with and against that kind of rubber.

In their final, the score stayed close in the first game. Nagase played Seemiller differently than any other player. He returned Danny’s anti shots low with a little topspin and placed them well. Against this tactic, Danny often used anti, but Nagase would jump on these returns, often killing Danny’s second anti shot. Danny would then use his sponge more. You could read their minds clearly by watching their beautiful play. Up 20-18, Seemiller maneuvered to get an easy setup—smashed it hard, but with too much zeal, and missed the game-winner. Danny was irritated and looked for a power play to finish the game. He worked for a shot, got it, then slammed hard to Nagase’s backhand. But Nagase had anticipated this strong shot and countered it back for a winner. Danny shouted in disbelief, but this type of return is not uncommon in Japan for a class player. Nagase with a quick attack took this game 22-20.

Danny regained his composure. In the second, he didn’t hit two anti shots consecutively. He was leading comfortably at 18-14, but stopped being aggressive. If asked, Danny would have answered that he didn’t alter his play at all. Yet I saw a subtle change. Slight as it was, it was enough for Nagase to fight back, to tie the score at 18-all.

Danny was tight, but with sheer guts he hung in there. Nagase was attacking with hard-hit balls and Danny was not returning them with real power. Nagase got a ball he wanted to kill but couldn’t because it ticked the edge of the table. That was a break for Danny and he won the next two points to send the match into the deciding third.

And now Danny played like a winner. He used anti effectively and followed with strong drives. On winning 21-15 he jumped into the air several times, raised his fist in the air, and entertained the spectators with his famous victory dance.

I have seen Danny win the Western Open four times and this was his toughest victory. He started out poorly, but by poorly I don’t mean his shots were less powerful. Rather, when pressed, he would back up and chop a few, choose a passive approach that would lose him points.

Fortunately for him, as the tournament progressed, he gradually became aggressive—ended up playing as Seemiller can play. If he centers on playing offense, sets up his shots well and puts them away calmly and surely, he may surprise a lot of people at the Gothenburg World’s. 

Sue Butler’s “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” Dinner

Before moving on to European play, I’m going to add (to the previous four presented in my Vol. XII) the remaining installments (SPIN, Jan., 1985, 18; Feb., 1985, 16; and Mar., 1985, 14) of Sue Butler’s 1984 long dinner conversation with the Chinese in Beijing. In attendance was Xu Yinsheng, President of China’s TTA, Xu Shaofa, Chinese Men’s Coach, and Chinese World players Cai Zhenhua, Tong Ling, and Geng Lijuan. 

“The Chinese players,” said Sue to Cai, “are so steady and have the ability to play so many close matches and win most of them that I just wondered, ‘Do you like deuce matches? Do you play them on purpose? You seem to be involved in so many close games and matches.’

Cai laughed. ‘We have confidence in our ability and complete confidence in our coaches. Of course I don’t try to be in close matches, but very often it just seems to work out that way. I have never in my whole life (at least not yet) lost my confidence during a match. I believe in myself and am especially supported by the faith my coach has in me.’

‘What do the rest of you tell yourselves when you start to lose confidence?” Sue asked.

‘The players depend on the coaches to help them out if they have a confidence problem’ was the consensus. ‘But most really don’t feel they have a confidence problem. They get afraid sometimes, but this is not a matter of losing confidence.’

‘Cai, what are you thinking when you’re down maybe 20-12 in the fifth?’

‘Sometimes it crosses my mind that there is no hope, but I quickly tell myself that I always have a chance.’

‘What accounts for your fighting spirit?’

‘I say it’s because of my coaches. They are so good and always give me the support I need.’

‘What in the old days did you tell yourself? Mao wants me to have courage? What did it mean when Liang, playing Sweden’s Johansson at Nagoya in 1971, looked over to his coach who flashed a small red book?’

All the Chinese thought this was really funny. I was told, though, that for years during the Cultural Revolution part of the day was set aside in the training center for political study, and that, until a year ago, players still had to read out loud and study political dogma an hour a day. The little red book in question could have been a political book, or maybe it was a notebook in which the coach kept pertinent information. But they had no idea what it meant when the coach held up the book to Liang, and they couldn’t remember the incident at all. I think they would have told me if there was anything more to it. President Xu did say that maybe the coach wanted Liang to remember what was recorded in the notebook—if that is what the red book signified.’ [Sue refers indirectly to my first-hand account of this held up notebook in my Vol. V (1971-1972), Chapter Three, p. 33. When this incident occurred in Swaythling Cup play, Liang was down 1-0 and 17-12 to Johansson, but then after the notebook was raised he rallied to win the game and the match.]

‘What are your feelings about biorhythms?’ Sue asked the group. How do you stay fresh for important matches and reach your peak performance levels at the proper times?’

The Chinese didn’t really have much to say about this. They did say that they have so many good players, and that new young ones are coming up all the time and are always ready to compete. President Xu added that of course the Chinese players can’t be 100% all the time. ‘We get down too,’ he said.

‘I seldom see a Chinese player lose three straight,’ said Sue. ‘Is that because your level is so high? How do your players always perform so well?’

‘Players have a responsibility to play well when it counts and we have such a support group for them,” said President Xu. The individual can never achieve anything on his own. It takes a collective effort to accomplish our goal. This has always been our philosophy.’

‘Do you approve of individuality in sport? A specialized style is hard to play against. Do you encourage this? How is the individual spirit brought into complementary synchronization with team spirit? Do you have trouble with players who have very free spirits and so have to try to get them to be team players without breaking their spirit?’

The Chinese really liked these questions. They all volunteered information. President Xu said that the coaches try to educate the athlete to be a team player and try to get him to use his strong character only in competition.

Xu Shaofa [who in 1978 began serving as assistant coach to, and who in 1983 succeeded Li Furong as head coach of, the Chinese Men’s Team] said the Chinese would like to have 20-25 players like Cai whom Xu considers the model of the Chinese player in the future. [Thirty years later, Cai will have powerful leadership positions in both the China Olympic Committee and the Chinese TTA.]

I said that I was really surprised at that as Cai has such a free spirit.

Coach Xu said, ‘Yes, that was true, but he is such a good team player and is very coachable. We do not encourage the free spirit, we want a team player. If a player does not fall into line in a very short period of time, he is asked to leave the National Training Center.’

‘Along the same line,’ President Xu added, ‘jealousy is also not tolerated. If we have a problem, the coaches and staff talk to the person involved and try to work it out. You know that virtually all the young players coming into the National Training Center can beat the older players (the world champions) at will. However, the younger ones must wait their turn and any effort on their part to move up faster than the coaches allow is met with disdain.’

‘If a player causing problems does not straighten up immediately, he is asked to leave. There are so many good players we don’t have to put up with the troublemakers. Also, team spirit is no problem. It has always been present in China. Everything is for team and country. We train together and help each other all the time. The individual spirit is much harder for us to develop.’

                                                            *** 

‘Our Association President, Tim Boggan, is impressed with your flexibility,’ I stated.

President Xu smiled. ‘Thank you. We try very hard to take positive things from different countries all over the world. We take the fighting spirit from the Americans, the strength and power from the Europeans, etc. In that way we can improve.’

I added, ‘Perhaps you have learned to depend on the individual because of a lack of technology. [Haven’t the Chinese indicated they’re not dependent on any one individual but on a group of individuals, a team?] There are disadvantages to high technology and I think the Japanese system proves this. The [Japanese?] player is always the result of any program [and that’s bad?]. He must be able to think for himself.’

‘It is very interesting that you should say this,’ said President Xu, ‘We feel the same way. We rely on the individual to make correct decisions at strategic times. If a player feels that the advice of the coach is not adequate in a particular situation, he is told to use his own instincts.’ [Consider this a justification for Zhuang Zedong to reportedly go against orders and, on that Chinese bus at the 1971 Nagoya World’s that our Glenn Cowan had been invited to board, greet Glenn all “Friendship First”-like and so change the world. Seminal “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” question: WHO (it wasn’t Zhuang), knowing the repercussions that were sure to follow, authorized that invitation to Glenn to board that private Chinese bus?]

‘We do not give blind obedience to coaches as perhaps the Japanesee do,’ President Xu continued. ‘All our training techniques are geared toward producing an individual who can make correct decisions quickly.’

‘While we were on the subject of technology,’ I said, ‘I’d like to ask if you’re interested in the non-technical mind for your training programs?’

Coach Xu responded at once. ‘We have many people on the staff of the National Training Center who are not table tennis players. We consider their help and advice just as important as the coaches’ and they have very objective views and give new insights.’

‘The Chinese are masters of the jab-block,’ I said. ‘How old is the penhold player when you introduce it to him/her? How much emphasis is put on it in practice, and how do your women develop it to such a high degree?’

President Xu laughed. “It is impossible to develop that stroke when the player is young.’

He continued, ‘We have not had a penhold fast-attack junior champion for years. It takes longer to develop this style—takes years of training—and a young Chinese player with our body size can’t execute the stroke. We lower the table for our young players to compensate for the problem.’

‘How much lower?’ I asked.

‘Different heights for different-size kids,’ Coach Xu replied.

‘As for the women,’ said President Xu, ‘they don’t play with the men as much as you might think. They reach their high level by practicing with each other. Our level is very high and there are always new young challengers entering the program.’

‘What do you do about recognition for your great players?’ I asked. “Do you have films and other records of them available to the public, perhaps in a Hall of Fame?’

Regrettably, no,’ said President Xu. ‘We have a few [just a few!] video tapes of course, but that is recent. We really have very little memorabilia of our great players in the past.’

Will a great player be remembered even if he is out of political favor? Does remembrance change with the political climate?’

‘In the past this has been true,’ said President Xu, ‘but things are changing. Of course all current players and coaches remember all our great players from the past as the time span is not that long back to the mid-fifties. We recognize personal standing, but it is all tied up with the whole team spirit. This cannot be separated from the general trend of the development of society.’”

                                                            ***

‘Why do the Chinese like table tennis?’ I asked. ‘Is it because you are good, or you love the sport?’

Everyone began talking at once. The interpreter summarized: ‘We began to love table tennis when we had our first World Champion. So many of us were in primary school when that happened and we were filled with admiration and wanted to become champions ourselves.’

‘Who is responsible for overseeing the education of the National Team players?’ I asked.

President Xu quickly responded: ‘We have different programs worked out for various players depending on their wishes. This is developed by the Sports Committee and myself.’

‘Why don’t you urge players after they’ve become good to be professional players like the Europeans?’

The Chinese laughed. President Xu replied: ‘By the time our players have concentrated intensely on table tennis for perhaps 10 years they are ready to retire. Chinese players have very definite goals that they work hard to achieve. This determined attitude also comes from the parents.

Did you know that Tong Ling [1981 Women’s World Singles Champion] went abroad when she was 15 and was scared to play all the European women she had heard so much about? But Tong decided she could beat them all because she had been following all the good examples set by the older Chinese players and that gave her confidence.

Hu Yu-lan, 1973 Women’s World Singles Champion, waited until she was in her 30’s to marry. She put aside her personal desires for her country. That is a typical attitude.’

‘This is a very different attitude than we have in the U.S.,’ I said. ‘It’s hard for us to understand how you keep this kind of intensity and dedication for so many years. As a player, President Xu, did you think about your future, what you might be doing after your playing days were over? How did you get into administration? Were you groomed for the CTTA Presidency? Can you answer such a question?’

‘I didn’t really think about my future,’ chuckled President Xu. ‘Does anyone think about that when he is 20? As for the CTTA, you aren’t groomed for that as it is a position in which the Association can remove me at any time.’

‘What quality most helps the player become the administrator?’ I asked.

President Xu replied quickly, ‘A sense of duty.’

‘Let’s talk about the power structure of China’s TTA,’ I suggested. ‘How do you resolve conflicts between liberal and conservative approaches?’

President Xu suddenly became very serious. ‘My position with the CTTA, for which I am not paid anything, is dependent on whether others want to see me continue. My real job is Vice Minister of China’s Sports Federation. [As Sue later finds out, this is a lifetime appointment (retirement age in China is 55-60), and Xu Yinsheng, who’s in his early 40’s, is the youngest person ever to hold either office.] The CTTA is a very structured organization right down to the local levels, and everyone has a voice. We resolve conflicts by much talk, many discussions.’

‘You are a man whose self-worth is tied up with responsible action,’ I said. ‘If you are faced with a liberal or conservative choice, which way do you usually decide and why?’

President Xu became very quiet. He looked toward the floor but did not seem to focus on anything. He played with his dinner napkin and didn’t immediately respond. Everyone at our table became curious and began pushing for an answer.

Finally, President Xu’s eyes met mine. He said many things about discussions, keeping the best interests of the country in mind, etc. But the Chinese were the ones who finally got a direct answer from him. ‘Liberal,’ he said, ‘because that is the way I am. We will see who was right as we try different techniques and see what works.’

‘How do you keep it together?’ I asked. ‘Our President, Tim Boggan, quotes poetry. What do you do?’

They all laughed. President Xu smiled. ‘I must meet this Tim Boggan. I think we have much to talk about. I talk to many different people and get their thoughts and advice before I make a troubling decision.’

‘Do you have discussions or arguments?’ I questioned.

A laughing President Xu responded, ‘Both. Time always proves who was right.

Tell us about Tim Boggan. We can’t figure out how old he is. He and his sons seem to represent the type of person who is easily excited. The youngest Boggan doesn’t like his father to coach him. Is that true?’

‘You will be at the World Championships in Sweden. Ask him. I’m sure he’d be happy to visit with you.

In your Association, do you try to make use of everyone who wants to help, even if the interested person is not well-liked or talented?’

‘We have people like that in our country, many of them. If you have any ideas on what to do with them, let us know, because we can’t think of anything either. We usually do not use this kind of person because he causes too much trouble in the long run.’

I changed the subject. ‘”You must do the thing you think you can’t do” is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of one of America’s most famous Presidents. How do you handle things you don’t feel you can do? What bothers you most in the line of duty?’

‘Again, I talk to many people I know and respect. They help me to resolve problems and work through difficult situations. Decisions I make that will affect people are sometimes very difficult to deal with.’

‘Does it bother you to get questions like this from other Associations—especially these American questions? We are more interested in people than political dogma.’

President Xu smiled. ‘No one has ever asked me these kinds of questions. No, they don’t bother me. I am enjoying this discussion very much; all of us are. Some of what we’re saying we haven’t expressed before to anyone else.’

A waitress came into the private dining room and spoke to President Xu. He turned to me and said that it was the first time any of them had eaten in this new restaurant. We had stayed two hours past closing time and the workers wanted to go home. It was clear President Xu had appreciated the questions I’d posed, and, smiling, wanted to know, ‘Were you satisfied with our answers?’

‘I replied, ‘It is not my place to be satisfied or not satisfied. I am only asking questions. What is important is that you are satisfied with your answers.’

The Chinese laughed and Coach Xu responded first. ‘We only wish we could have gotten the women to say more. All of us feel very different than we did before dinner. You weren’t aware, but as we also talked among ourselves this evening we all realized how similar our thinking is on many issues. The language barrier is the biggest problem. But for sure it has been a most enjoyable evening for all of us.’” 

Not just Sue but others in my administration are looking to make nice with the Chinese. Initially we were very interested in West German Annegret Steffien’s intention, sponsorship assured, of promoting a Chinese Team’s multi-city Friendship Tour of the U.S. this spring.

And we thought if the Chinese were here during our $15,000 U.S. Open in Miami the last week of June they would of course be very, very welcome to play in the tournament, and I indicated as much in a Jan. 8th letter to Mr. Zuo Shiyong of the China Sports Service Co.

However, after six weeks passed without any specifics from Ms. Steffien regarding this proposed Tour, I had to send the following Western Union telegram to Mr. Zuo: 

Time now to move through the wintry weather to give you the results of several European Opens and Closeds.

First, the Jan. 16-19 Welsh Open. Men’s Team: Final: Poland (3)—China (1): Grubba over Wang Zhanyi, 8, 10; Fan Baozhang over Kucharski, 17, 16; Grubba/Kucharski over Wang/Fan, 18, 18; Kucharski over Wang, 20, 13. Semi’s: Poland (3)—England (1): Douglas over Kucharski, 19, -19, 18; Grubba over Prean, 7, -7, 11; Grubba/Kucharski over Douglas/Prean, 17, 19; Grubba over Douglas, 19, -18, 15. Semi’s: China (3)—Japan (0): Fan over T. Inoue, 13, 17; Wang over H. Ono, 14, 18; Fan/Wang over Inoue/Ono, -15, 18, 18. Best quarter’s: Japan (3)—France (2); and Poland (3)—Sweden (1). Significant early ties: England (3)—USSR (2): Mazunov over Prean, 19, 13; Douglas over Solopov, 11, 12; Douglas/Prean over Mazunov/Rosenberg, 19, 18; Mazunov over Douglas, -15, 18, 19; Prean over Solopov, 16, -12, 16. Belgium over USA (walkover for Belgium). Japan (3)—Canada (0); Canada (3)—Israel (0).

Women’s Team: Final: Republic of Korea (3)—China (2): Liu Wei over Lee, 15, 17; Yoon over Han Yan, 15, 17; Lee/Yoon over Liu/Han, 18, -18, 19; Liu over Yoon, 14, -20, 18; Lee over Han, -13, 18, 17. Semi’s: Korea (3)—France (0): Lee over Diachenko, 18, 13; Yoon over Thiriet, 12, 11; Lee/Yoon over Daviaud/Thiriet, 15, -14, 22. Semi’s: China (3)—USSR (1): Liu Wei over Kovtun, 19, 7; Han over Diachenko,7, 17; Kovton/Diachenko over Han/Liu, 19, -9, 17; Liu over Diachenko, 19, 15. Best quarter’s: USSR (3)—Germany (2). Significant early ties: England (3)—Canada (1): Gordon over Domonkos, 17, 18; Grundy over Mach, 21, 14; Domonkos/Hsu over Gordon/Grundy, 17, -14, 17; Grundy over Domonkos, -17, 21, 14. Czechoslovakia (3)—Belgium (2); Germany (3)—Poland (2).

Men’s Singles: Final: Grubba over Secretin, -19, 13, 18, 17. Semi’s: Grubba over Douglas, 12, -19, 15, 15; Secretin over Fan, 16, -13, -18, 17, 17. Quarter’s: Grubba over Birocheau, 14, 10, 13; Douglas over Bohm, 18, 19, 13; Secretin over Mazunov, 16, 12, 11; Fan over Ono, -19, 10, 13, 16. Best early matches: Douglas over Inoue, 17, -20, 17, -17, 17; and Mazunov over England’s Andrew, 16, -18, 11, -17, 19.

Women’s Singles: Final: Nemes over Han Yan, 19, 19, 9. Semi’s: Nemes over Grefberg, 18, 16, 14; Han over Kovtun, 10, 14, 14. Quarter’s: Nemes over Daviaud, 9, 15, 20; Grefberg over Liu, 21, -13, 20, -13, 19; Han over Wenzel, -19, 10, 11, 15; Kovtun over Olschewski, 14, -12, 19, -17, 10. Best early matches: Nemes in a gutsy comeback over Yoon, -10, -17, 22, 18, 18; Daviaud over Witt, -19, 19, -15, 12, 16; Olschewski over Bergstrom, 16, -19, -21, 12, 21.

Men’s Doubles: Secretin/Birocheau over Persson/Akesson, 19, -11, 10. Semi’s: Secretin/Birocheau over Douglas/Grubba, 19, 18; Persson/Akesson over Bohm/Kucharski, -14, 18, 12. Best quarter’s: Secretin/Birocheau over Mazunov/Rosenberg, 19, -19, 14.

Women’s Doubles: Final: Han/Liu over Lee/Yoon, 12, 13. Semi’s: Han/Liu over Hong Cha Ok/Hyun Jung Hwa, -22, 17, 26; Lee/Yoon over Daviaud/Thiriet, 18, 8, -22, 17. Best quarter’s: Hong/Hyun over Fukutoma/A. Wada, -16, 19, 9; and Han/Liu over Bergstrom/Johansson, -19, 21, 13.

Mixed Doubles: Final: Park Ji Hun/Hyun over Mazunov/Pelikanova, 15, -18, 11. Semi’s: Park/Hyun over S. Bengtsson/Johansson, 18, 10; Mazunove/Pelikanova over Prean/Grundy, 20, 18. Best quarter’s: Bengtsson/Johansson over Borsos/Nemes, 17, -16, 28; and Mazunov/Pelikanova over Kucharski/Brzezinska, -12, 21, 19.

Men’s Consolation: Rosenbaum over Wright, -20, 14, 9.

Women’s Consolation: Herzel, 13, -12, 19, over Higuet who’d survived Deltour, -18, 12, 21. 

We learn from an article by Germany’s Rahut Nelson in the ETTU/AIPS publication (December, 1985/4, No. 19) that Andrzej Grubba, now Europe #1, “was born May 14, 1958 into a teacher’s family in Brzezno.” As a boy, he enjoyed playing handball, but figured that because of his stature he couldn’t become a top player. So, as late as 1972, “he started to play table tennis—and, not as the righty he became, but with his left hand.” His brother would play with him, but “always sent the ball to my forehand, and as I was too small to reach it I simply transferred the racket into my right hand so as to hit the ball with my backhand.” Thus was born “one of the finest backhand topspins in the world.”

Andrzej first became Polish National Champion in 1979, then, after his good friend and teammate Leszek Kucharski won in 1980, Andrzej continued to hold the title, becoming along the way Poland’s “Athlete of the Year.”

He currently plays in the Bundesliga for TTC Zugbrucke Grenzau—which entails “a seven-hour-long journey (Gdansk-Warsaw-Frankfurt-Grenzau) to every match of TTC Zugbrucke.” Since Andrzej’s wife Lucyna “can create for him an atmosphere just like the one back home,” he often takes her with him. Now 26, she “had 75 caps in Poland’s national handball team, but today she dedicates herself fully to the couple’s 11-month-old son Tomak.” That’s more than fine with Andrzej, since, as he puts it, “Family has absolute priority for me.”

Grubba says, “Many people will be surprised by hearing that I often play soccer. Many coaches are opposed to that, but I don’t care—I don’t mind risks. During the past 10 years that I’ve played soccer I’ve never suffered a major injury.” In order to relax before major matches, he “prepares,” going by car when he can, driving two to three hours “usually very fast and that’s why I ended up fined several times.” Grubba practices five times a week, two workouts of two hours each, and also does conditional training.

We can see from the following Europe Top 12 results (a lot of players here capable of beating a lot of other players) how Grubba, who was last year’s European Men’s Singles runner-up to Ulf Bengtsson, has become Europe #1: 1. Grubba (9/2). 2. Pansky (7/4). 3. Appelgren (7/4). 4. Secretin (7/4). 5. Waldner (7/4). 6. Douglas (7/4). 7. Surbek (5/6). 8. Lindh (5/6). 9. Mazunov (4/7). 10. Kalinic (3/8). 11. Kucharski (3/8). 12. Bengtsson (2/8).

Women’s Results: 1. Vriesekoop (11/0). 2. Olah (8/3). 3. Hrachova (8/3). 4. Nemes (8/3). 5. Bulatova (6/5). 6. Popova (5-6). 7. Antonjan (5-6). 8. Batinic (4/7). 9. Perkucin (3/8). 10. Urban (3-8). 11. Kruger (3/8). 12. Szabo (2-9). 

Finishers in the Soviet Union Championships: Men: 1. Dvorak. 2. Solopov. 3.Rozenberg. 4. Mazunov. 5. Stadnitchenko. 6. Geisman. 7. Podnosov. 8. Ovtcharov. Women’s: 1. Bulatova. 2. Vetcherok. 3. Popova. 4. Yavorovskaja. 5. Zakharian. 6. Timofeeva. 7. Matveeva. 8. Kovalenko. Men’s Doubles: Mazunov/Rosenberg. Women’s Doubles: Vetcherok/Khasanova. Mixed Doubles: Mazunov/N. Antonjan. 

Erik Lindh, Europe #6, won the (“They don’t call me #2 anymore”) Swedish Closed by defeating former World Champion Stellan Bengtsson in the quarter’s in four; then several-time U.S. Open competitor Jonas Berner in the semi’s in five; and finally for the title Jorgen Persson, 24-22 in the fourth. Persson, last year’s runner-up to Jan-Ove Waldner, downed Mikael Appelgren, World #6, in straight games in the quarter’s, then—sweet revenge—stopped Waldner in the semi’s, 13, 19, -14, -22, 16.

Other results: Women’s: Barbro Wiktorsson over Pia Eliasson, 10, 17, 15. Semi’s: Wiktorsson over Ulrika Hansson, 11, 9, 18; Eliasson over Lotta Erlman, -23, 19, 14, -13, 8. Men’s Doubles: Persson/Jonny Akesson over Ulf Bengtsson/Ulf Carlsson, -8, 15, 11. Semi’s: Person/Akesson over Appelgren/Michael Frank, -15, 10, 15; Bengtsson/Carlsson over Lindh/Waldner, 13, 16. Women’s Doubles: Final: Eliasson/Susanne Dahl over Ulla-Marta Gustavsson/Birgitta Radberg, 14, 18. Semi’s: Eliasson/Dahl over B. Martinsson/L. Martensson [Sp.?], 20, 10. Mixed Doubles: Waldner/Anneli Hernval over Ulf Bengtsson/ Annika Lath, -11, 13, 15. 

At the Feb. 14-17 Czech Open, the U.S. team of Eric Boggan and Mike Bush defeated the Netherlands, 3-1, then lost to Sweden, 3-0—with European #3 Waldner downing Eric in a close three-game match. In singles play, Mike beat a Czech chopper, then lost in five to a South Korean; while Eric beat English International Graham Sandley before falling in five to 1984 European Champ Ulf Bengtsson. 

Canada’s Marie Kerr (OTTA Update, Spring, 1985, 15-16) reports on the 8th Commonwealth Championships, held Mar. 17-23, the week before the World’s, at Douglas on the Isle of Man. Go to it, Marie—give us some good North American news: 

“What a great week of table tennis! The Canadian Men’s Team did better than ever, finishing in 3rd-Place behind England and Hong Kong for the Bronze Medal.

Of course, the highlight of the Championships for me was our own Mariann Domonkos and Gloria Hsu winning the Women’s Doubles [over England’s Karen Witt/Lisa Bellinger, 18, 19, in the semi’s, then over Hong Kong’s Hui So Hung/Yue Kam Kai, 19, 17, in the final]….

It certainly has paid off having the Chinese Coach, Mr. Su, these past three years. Not only was the caliber of play of these Canadians said to be the best ever, but their camaraderie was apparent. A radio station commentator said he thought the Canadians were the best group there when it came to supporting each other.

There was a big disappointment in the play, however. Mariann lost to the top English Junior player, Joanne Shaw. I really felt that if Mariann had won this match, she could very easily have won the Women’s Singles title, especially after her easy two-straight win over England’s Singles semifinalist Bellinger in the Team’s [where Canada finished #4]. However, Mariann did win the Consolation’s over Ireland’s Elizabeth Cheevers.

In the Singles, Hsu fell to Hong Kong’s Mok Ka Sha who would lose in the next round to Bellinger. I was fascinated watching Lisa twiddle her bat most effectively—it was the first time I’d ever seen a woman do that. Becky McKnight won her first round against a Welsh girl before losing to England’s Fiona Elliot. And Thanh Mach, after a great win over India’s Puri in the Team’s, forced winner Witt into the fifth in the Singles.

I thought it was very poor taste when during the semi’s match between Karen Witt and Lisa Bellinger, Karen got mad and just picked up her table-end quite a few inches off the floor and let it drop with a bang. Karen also had an incident with an umpire and flung her bat across the court and into the next one. Mind you, I think she gets away with murder and feel that many of the umpires are scared of her….

The tournament hotel was first-rate with a disco and a casino downstairs. Most of us had a little flutter every night. It was good to see Jose Ransome again—we remember her t.t. years in Canada. Jose’s first trip to the casino had her winning about $80 at roulette and from then on she was hooked. Becky McKnight put 10p ($.25) into the slot machine and clatter, clatter, out dropped 100p. The bus tour on the free day was lovely—the Isle of Man is a beautiful place and a tax haven for the rich. The farewell party was a huge success—it’s so sad that all good things must come to an end….”

Results: Men’s: 1. Desmond Douglas. 2. Alan Cooke. 3./4.: David Wells and Lo Chuen Chung. Women’s: 1. Karen Witt. 2. Hui So Hung. 3./4.: Mandy Sainsbury and Lisa Bellinger. Men’s Doubles: 1. Atanda Musa/Francis Sule. 2. Desmond Douglas/Carl Prean. 3./4.: Chiu Man Kuen (1983 Winner) and Chan Kong Wah; Barry Griffiths and Peter Jackson. Women’s Doubles: 1. Mariann Domonkos/Gloria Hsu. 2. Hui So Hung/Yue Kam Kai. 3./4.: Joanne Shaw and Mandy Sainsbury; Karen Witt and Lisa Bellinger. Mixed Doubles: 1. Desmond Douglas/Alison Gordon. 2. Lo Chuen Chung/Mok Ka Sha. 3./4.: Joe Ng/Gloria Hsu and Horatio Pintea/Mariann Domonkos. Men’s Consolation: 1. Nigel Taylor. 2. Garfield Jones. Women’s Consolation: Mariann Domonkos. 2. Elizabeth Cheevers.

Final Classification (Top 10): Men’s Team: 1. England. 2. Hong Kong. [England has won five Championships, Hong Kong three.] 3. Canada. 4. Nigeria. 5. India. 6. Wales. 7. New Zealand. 8. Australia. 9. Scotland. 10. Pakistan. Women’s Team: 1. England. 2. Hong Kong. [England has won five Championships, Hong Kong three.] 3. India. 4. Canada. 5. Nigeria. 6. Australia. 7. New Zealand. 8. Scotland. 9. Wales. 10. Northern Ireland. Men’s Singles: 1. Desmond Douglas. 2. Alan Cooke. 3. Lo Chuen Chung. 4. Carl Prean. 5. David Wells. 6. Francis Sule. 7. Garry Haberl. 8. Kamlesh Mehta. 9. Graham Sandley. 10. Joe Ng. Women’s Singles: 1. Karen Witt. 2. Lisa Bellinger. 3. Hui So Hung (1979 Winner). 4. Alison Gordon. 5. Mandy Sainsbury. 6. Yue Kan Kai (1983 Winner). 7. Mok Ka Sha. 8. Fiona Elliott. 9. Olawunmi Mjekodunmi. 10. Indu Puri. 

Just a few days before the actual start of the Mar. 28-Apr. 7 World’s, Sports Illustrated came out with their Mar. 25, 1985 issue which featured a five-page article (“Talk About Bad Table Manners”), by Jaime Diaz, on Eric Boggan. Jaime, if I may say so, worked a few exaggerations into his text, but on the whole he got volatile Eric (and me) pretty much right. This passage, for example, is sure to appeal to at least some of my readers:

“During a brooding adolescence, Eric came to hate having to endure his father’s boisterous and impassioned rooting. When Tim would yell, ‘Bravo, Eric!’ after the youngster won a point, or when he held up what the family calls The Fist—a clenched right hand thrust out like a boxer finishing an uppercut, which means ‘Fight!’—Eric would respond by screaming, ‘Tim, you know I hate your guts!’ or ‘I wish you would just get out of here, Tim!’ Even—yes Dr. Freud—‘Tim, I’m going to kill you!’

These patricidal eruptions were almost enough to make U.S. table tennis aficionados glad their sport got so little exposure. To be fair, Eric’s match behavior has become less embarrassing in the last couple of years. He has learned to direct his shouting at himself, and Tim has made a mighty effort to tone down his fervent cheering.

Eric has trouble explaining what possessed him to abuse his father in front of so many people. ‘At the time,’ he says, ‘I didn’t have many friends. I was moody, and I needed someone to take it out on. Also, when I screamed at him it cleared my head and I played better. Still, before a match I would ask him to please not root for me so loud because it bothered me. I now realize he was trying to help me.’

Sally Boggan, Tim’s wife of 26 years,…[agrees] it’s an extra burden for them [Eric’s brother Scott too, also a U.S. Men’s Singles champion] to see him there, being so emotional.

Whatever the cause of Eric’s raging, Tim thinks it’s healthy. ‘I like intensity of any persuasion,’ he says. ‘I hate lethargy. Most people just don’t have much intensity, which is why they don’t understand Eric or Scott or me. The poet Keats said, ‘The excellence of every art is its intensity.’ Scott and Eric are artists….”

Since over the years my readership has gotten to know, and will continue to know, Eric (and me) rather well, there’s no reason for me to repeat much of the article’s considerable text, most of its parts having appeared, quite transparently, in a succession of my earlier volumes. However, in deference to Jaime’s conscientiousness and hard work I am going to bookend his opening and closing—this to give you something of the feel of his writing: 

“‘Kampf!’

Eric Boggan, the best American table tennis player in 25 years, lets his voice ring through the Sortzentrum in Bayreuth, West Germany until the 500 spectators rooting against him are quiet. Then, eyes burning, he utters a tight-lipped translation: ‘Fight!’

Boggan has just zipped a backhand drive past the home team’s best player, Milan Orlowski. But on the next point Orlowski, a Czechoslovakian and a former European champion, fires up the fans with a topspin forehand that finds the open crosscourt corner. Sending a murderous stare toward Boggan, Orlowski yells over the crowd’s applause, ‘Ja!’ (Yes!)

Boggan is the top player for Spvgg Steinhagen; Orlowski plays for Bayreuth’s TTBG Steiner Optic. Both teams belong to Germany’s Bundesliga, the highest-caliber professional table tennis league in the world. Orlowski, though past his prime at 32, is thickly-muscled and ruggedly handsome. By contrast, the 21-year-old Boggan is a gangly 6’2”, slack-jawed, and floppy-socked, with a disconcerting array of facial contortions. He also has an annoying habit of stamping his foot loudly when he hits a shot.

Indeed, as Orlowski goes up 10-5 in the third and deciding game, Boggan appears to be on the verge of the kind of tantrum that has made him the No. 1 bad boy of the sport. ‘Come on,’ he berates himself between points. ‘You have talent, you practice hard, but you play like dogmeat.’

This last self-excoriation seems to trigger something positive in Boggan, for he immediately starts to play with the ferocity of a pit bull. Blocking Orlowski’s heavy topspin with what Swedish players call his ‘windshield-wiper’ style—he stands close to the table, using the same side of his paddle for both forehand and backhand shots—Boggan catches Orlowski at 15-all. Several deceptive spins and precise placements later he wins the game 21-16 to close out the competition for Steinhagen.

Boggan is elated. With victory comes the end of a two-day ordeal of tension, moodiness, complaints of unsavory food and maladies ranging from a sore thigh muscle to dry skin. ‘You know,’ he shouts in the winners’ noisy dressing room, abandoning for a moment his improving German for the benefit of a visitor, ‘back home we have a set of coasters with pictures of players on them. That guy [Orlowski] was on one of the coasters. It’s like I was Mike Boddicker whiffing Reggie Jackson.’ Prancing out to a postmatch meal, he announces, ‘I’m a party animal now.’

However, less than an hour later Boggan has pushed away a half-eaten salad and barely sipped a beer. In a tired voice he says he’s having trouble breathing. ‘I’m so sensitive. I go way up and then way down,’ says Boggan, perplexed by his own mood swings. ‘I guess it’s because I’m young for my age and there is so much pressure. I have no talent for anything but table tennis. I have to win. To me, losing is like God blowing his nose on me.’…

Living in an increasingly self-sufficient fashion in Europe over the last four years has helped make Boggan a less neurotic gladiator. Last August, after two seasons in a Swedish league and another in a league in Bad Hamm, West Germany, Boggan moved to Steinhagen, a quiet town of 5,700 people about 60 miles from Hannover. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment on a forested foothill. Lured by the pleasure of the autobahn, Boggan recently sunk a chunk of his DM 60,000 ($17,750) salary into a BMW 323i, but it’s his only luxury. When not training he lives casually, dressing in sweat pants and old sweaters with a NO NUKES pin attached, listening to rock music, and cooking his own meals when he isn’t dining in pubs.

‘Everything here meshes,’ he says of his surroundings. ‘You do things right. It might be just a walk. Even if it’s a movie you concentrate better. It’s not like America, where there is so much to do you get bored.’ He’s even dating someone for the first time. ‘She’s 26. Her name is Uschmi, and we met in Berlin,’ says Boggan. ‘It’s not serious, but we talk a lot.’

Of course, Boggan’s emotions still seethe during matches. Following a recent loss he startled his teammates by fiercely pounding his temples. ‘I gave myself a headache,’ he says. ‘I know that people here look at me like I’m a little strange. I’m not expressionless like the German players. But I really feel accepted. You know what I would like? A nickname. Something like der absolute Publikumsliebling.’

Which means?

‘The absolute public darling,’ he says, and laughs.” 

Eric will go on to complete his 1984-85 Bundesliga season with a first-half record of 13 wins, 4 losses, a second-half record of 13 wins, 6 losses (26-10). Eric’s Steinhagen club—after downing favored Reutlingen, 9-7 (with Eric beating Appelgren and Stellwag), and then challenging the #1 team Saarbrucken, losing 7-9 (with Eric downing Germany’s #1 George Bohm but falling to Waldner in three) will finish third. In post season play, while traveling through France and the Netherlands, Eric will win two tournaments, one over Stellan Bengtsson, the other over Dragutin Surbek.

            I’ll return to his play in Chapter Six when I take up the U.S. Team’s matches at the Gothenburg World’s.