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

1984: Americans Abroad—Part I: Early-Year European Tournaments. 

            Not only are U.S. and Canadian players moving out more and more into the world of international table tennis, but they’re more and more communicating with others as to what happens when the Sport’s stars play. I’ll begin with the results of three tournaments that one of Canada’s entrants, Horatio Pintea, indispensibly helped me write up (Timmy’s, Feb.-Mar., 1984, 14).

First here are the winners of the Jan. 21-22 Cleveland, England Open: Men’s Team: England (3)—Japan (1). Semi’s: England (3)—Netherlands/Joe Ng, Canada (2); Japan (3)—Ellenborough (0). Women’s Team: Japan I (3)—England (1). Semi’s: Japan I (3)—Denmark (0); England (3)—Tarmac Wolverhampton (0). Men’s Singles: 1979 World Champion Seiji Ono d. Juzo Nukazuka, 20, 13. Semi’s: Ono d. Graham Sandley, 21, 14; Nukazuka d. Carl Prean, -19, 16, 17. Ng won two earlier matches, then forced Ono into the third. Women’s Singles: Yosh Schimauchi d. Carole (Knight) Moore, -19, 16, 17. Semi’s: Schimauchi d. C. Pulk, 13, 16; Moore d. J. Kruse, 14, 15. Men’s Doubles: Ono/Nukazuka d. Mason/Cooke, -19, 13, 10. Ng, playing with the Netherlands’ van Spanje, won two matches before losing to Skylet Andrew/Philip Bradbury. Women’s Doubles: Shimauchi/Yamamoto d. Parker/Grundy, 16, 15. 

            Desmond Douglas, back now replacing Carl Prean as #1 in the English Rankings, rallied from 2-0 down to defeat lefty Vladislav Broda in the final of the Norwich Union English Open, played Jan. 26-28 at Brighton.

            The Czech who got to the quarter’s of the Swiss, Hungarian, and Swedish Opens, but who isn’t listed among the leaders in the most recent European Rankings (it’s his brother Miroslav who’s currently Europe #25), is a very strong player—indeed, he may well have replaced Orlowski as the Czech #1. When he covers the ball, he, like, surrounds it, really gets a lot of pure spin on it, then re-loops off the top of the bounce.

            Broda, up 2-0 and 11-7 in the 3rd, looked a sure winner against Douglas when all of a sudden the ump faulted him on a serve (many players thought the ump’s intervention unjust), and the young Czech lost his concentration and ultimately the match.

            Broda did down Grubba in five in the semi’s, though, while Douglas, conqueror of Carlsson, was finishing off German Champ Bohm, who earlier had given the boot to former Japanese World Champion Ono.

            France’s Secretin, recent winner of the Hungarian Open, has this miraculous touch for putting ball after ball to the corners—but he was upset in the first round by the English #10 Philip Bradbury. Sweden’s Jorgen Persson, down 2-1 and 20-18 in the 4th, rallied to do in Poland’s #2 Kucharski while the spectators in the immediate vicinity kept a wary eye out for any well known bat-slinging on the part of the impetuous loser. And another Swede, Jonas Berner, scored a fine upset over France’s Birocheau.

            In a match of not so much interest, Broda beat me, Horatio,  (but not because I, like many another player, could not adjust to the much criticized plastic ball being used in the tournament—it would just stop on you). And in another match, Kucharski knocked out Joe Ng—though in the Team’s Joe did have a very nice win over Wosik, the German #3.

            The Men’s Doubles was won by Akesson/Persson over Secretin/Parietti, 9, -21, 19, then over Cooke/Sandley, 20, 15. Ng/Pintea split early matches—beat Souter/Wilson; lost to Broda/Javurek in three.

            USSR won the Women’s Team’s over Japan, 3-0 (Popova d. Shimauchi, deuce in the 3rd; Zakharian d. Uezono, 14, 13; and Popova/Zakharian d. Shimauchi/Yamamoto, 15, -16, 11. Women’s Singles went to Zakharian over Khasanova in five, then over Thiriet, -16, 22, 18, 16, after the Frenchwoman had outlasted Popova in five. Other good matches: Khasanova over Jansma, 23-21 in the fourth; and Thiriet over Wiktorsson, -20, 16, -21, 11, 19. Women’s Doubles: Germain/Thiret d. Nohira/Shimauchi, 18, 19. Mixed  Doubles: Ono/Shimauchi over Kucharski/Szatko, -13, 20, 19.

At the German Open, played in Duisberg, Feb. 9-12, Sweden won the Men’s Team Championship, 3-2, over Poland with both Waldner and Appelgren beating Grubba. However, it was Grubba who was the surprise winner of the Singles—defeating Waldner in the final, 19 in the 5th.

In the one semi’s, Grubba, who’s a very safe player, a good lobber, and who has an excellent power backhand when back from the table, downed Douglas in straight games—though the English Champion had won the Norwich Union English Open only a month before.

In the other semi’s, Swedish Open Champ Waldner, a spontaneous rather than a deliberate, mechanical player, hadn’t the least bit of trouble with Germany’s aging, world-class blocker Lieck. The German #6’s long-rally victories—over the Englishman Prean, who can’t seem to win now since the new (two-color and serve) Rules went into effect; the long-time #1 Dane Pedersen; the Yugoslav Mesaros (who said Lieck couldn’t play against chop?); and the Swede Ulf Bengtsson, 19 in the 5th in the quarter’s—made him something of a TV hero in his home country.

            Waldner recently won the European Top 12 Tournament in Bratislava, and he has the best hands in the world, but he needed five games to do away with French looper Birocheau in the quarter’s. Grubba, returning the ball deep, had little difficulty with the sometimes super-fast Carlsson, who, the round before, down 2-1 to Eric Boggan, had survived match point before turning things around in the 29-27th fourth.

            In the 16th’s, though, Grubba, who often doesn’t play well against unconventional styles, was down 2-1 to Yugo penholder Karakasevic before pulling it out. And in the 8th’s, with both Grubba and Appelgren exchanging well and saving incredible balls (You can hardly make a point with a kill nowadays), the Pole had to go five to get by the recent World Cup winner who himself had just gone 19 in the fifth with Mazunov, the young Russian who’d eliminated World #5 Satoh in the first round of the Swedish Open.

            Since Douglas doesn’t back up and is very quick over the table, it’s understandable that he could knock off Kriston, 19 in the 4th, in the quarter’s. The Hungarian has a tremendous forehand (he flips the ball off a heavy push, then loops off the bounce). Plus, he twirls his anti almost faster than the eye can follow—I know, for he beat me, Horatio, easily in the first round. Kriston, 19 in the fifth, eked one out (from 19-13 down) against European Top 12 runner-up Pansky. And in the 8th’s, Szolt the Bolt downed Kalinic after the Yugoslav Champ had beaten Japan’s Abe in five.

            In other Men’s matches of note, Dvoracek, who only a year ago looked like he was all played out, beat Erik Lindh, 24-22 in the fourth, then lost to Mesarus in five after the Yugo chopper had rallied from 2-0 down to take out German Champ Bohm. Gergely, down 2-1 and 20-18 in both the fourth and fifth to Sweden’s Jorgen Persson, a really fluid player with a smooth long stroke and a sure-of-himself manner, somehow stayed alive and went on to defeat the immortal Surbek, 18 in the fifth, before losing to Birocheau, conqueror of Japan’s Maehara in five. And Waldner, who seems to delight in playing five-game matches without ever looking pressed, had an early scare with German’s Nieswand, who the round before had beaten Scott Boggan in five.

            Americans Bush and Butler, and my teammate Ng, had uneventful Singles matches. And as for our Canadian women players—they never got off the ground—that is, they remained in Canada because travel arrangements with the Department of Defense didn’t come through in time.

            Appelgren/Carlsson took the Men’s Doubles from Ulf Bengtsson/Peter Stellwag,12, 19. Of interest to North American readers: Quarter’s: Appelgren/Carlsson d. Eric Boggan and his Japanese partner Shimizu, 18, 15. Eighth’s: Boggan/Shimizu had a very good win over Douglas/Wosik, -8, 19, 21. Sixteenth’s: Boggan/Shimizu over Jonyer/Gergely, def. Thirty-Second’s: Boggan/Shimizu over Jokinen/Ikonen, -19, 8, 14. Also in the Thirty-Second’s: Engel/Borsos over Butler/Renold; and Pansky/Javurek over Ng/Pintea.

            The Women’s Team was won by Yugoslavia over Czechoslovakia, 3-2: Batinic (Y) d. Pelikanova (C), 9, -17, 7; Hrachova (C) d. Perkucin (Y), 18, 16; Batinic/Perkucin d. Hrachova/Pelikanova, 18, 18; Hrachova d. Batinic, 13, -15, 19; Perkucin d. Pelikanova, 19, 13. Women’s Singles went to Olah over Batinic, 18 in the 4th, then over Hrachova, 17 in the 5th, then over Bulatova, 18 in the 5th, then over Antonjan, 16, 11, 4. Best early-round matches: Kloppenberg over Zakharian, 19 in the 5th; Monteux over Lippens in five; Gordon over Batorfi, 19 in the 5th; Sonia Grefberg over Olschewski in five; Kloppenberg over Nakajima in five; and Wenzel over Eliasson (from down 2-0). Women’s Doubles was won by Zakharian/Bulatova over Olah/Bolvart. Mixed Doubles went to Molnar/Olah over Persson/Nakajima. In Thirty-Second’s, Molnar/Olah d. Butler/Leonard. In Sixty-Fourth/s, Palmi/Wiltsche d. Boggan/Furukawa, 24-22 in the 3rd.

            Bunched with these Pintea-reported tournaments were two others, both covered by Americans. The first of these, reported on by D. Austin Babcock, was the Europe Top 12, held Feb. 3-5 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia: 

            “Fellow American Pongers, throughout its history, the Europe Top 12 has seen quite a few changes in its format. In its beginning, only Yugoslavia was willing to hold the event—which showed of course a distinct lack of interest on the part of the other participating countries. Since then changes have been made—for instance, in the number of players and the method of tie-breaking. The first two years the women had only six participants. One year, according to official tournament rules, Stellan Bengtsson had won top honors. He’d tied with an 8-2 result with one other player, Yugoslavia’s Anton Stipancic. But when the awards were given out, Stipancic was awarded the first-place trophy. Why? Because although Bengtsson had won his encounter with Stipancic, the Yugoslav had a better game result. And—surprise—the change in the tie-breaking rule had not been announced until play had been completed.

            As some years passed, however, this 2/3-game event became more popular. Its increasingly grueling play-schedule (now 11 best-of-five matches in three days for the Men) has made it a real test, and apparently many players feel the need for this endurance contest….Secretin has played every single year, and never won. Both Jonyer and (last year) Appelgren won with their debut appearance. England’s Jill Hammersley has won the fairer half’s contest three times and Hungary’s retired Beatrix Kishazi four times.

            Sweden has four men but only one woman—Marie Lindblad, #8—in the current European Top Twelve ranking list. However, press releases in Sweden are not always accurate. Two different papers had a match between Pansky and Jonyer go four games…with Pansky winning all four.

            Notably absent from this year’s play was Desmond Douglas who’s finished 2nd, 4th, 6th, 3rd, and 2nd in the last five years.  Also, the two top Hungarians didn’t participate. Word is that Klampar and Kriston played an exhibition match in ignorance of orders to compete in some district championship tournament. They pocketed a pretty penny. Kriston received only a small fine plus one month’s tournament ineligibility. Klampar has been banned from all competition for a period of 2 and ½ years [expect that to hold, do you?].

            In the Men’s, the main country was Sverige. Only Pansky posed a non-Nordic threat to win top honors. Rules demand that players from like countries meet each other relatively early. When Appelgren met Lindh, it was quite an exciting match—with great publicity. It was interesting, particularly if one is interested in brushing up on one’s Swedish vulgarisms, that Appelgren had been leading the tournament throughout, had won his first eight matches in a row, including that last one against Lindh, and although he still had to meet Orlowski, Pansky, and Grubba, it appeared that no one would be able to stop him, for Waldner had already dropped two matches. But “The Apple” then proceeded to lose his last three matches, while Waldner won his last three to take the tournament.

            Comments from the winner? He stated that he has only two goals for the present. To take 1st-Place in Men’s Singles in both the upcoming European Championships and next year’s World’s to be held in the beautiful city of Gothenburg, Sweden. When asked about his professional plans, he said that his training in Sweden is better than any situation he could obtain in Germany. More intensive. ‘I prefer my homeland for the time being. I have time…’

            On the Women’s side, where the matches are only best of three, the Czech Marie Hrachova managed to maintain a one-match lead from the early rounds throughout the event and edged out the Netherlands’ Vriesekoop, Russia’s Popova, and Hungary’s Olah.”

            Men’s Results; 1. Waldner. 2. Pansky. 3. Appelgren. 4. Grubba. 5. Lindh. 6. Orlowski. 7. Kalinic. 8. Secretin. 9. Surbek. 10. Carlsson. 11. Jonyer. 12. Prean. Women’s Results: 1. Hrachova. 2. Vriesekoop. 3. Popova. 4. Olah. 5. Bulatova. 6. Urban. 7. Batinic. 8. Lindblad. 9. Szabo. 10. Kruger. 11. Kovalinko. 12. Witt. 

            The second tournament, reported on by “C.S. Boggan,”* was the Belgium Top 10, the country’s second most important tournament, held Feb. 6 in Brussels: 

Men’s Play

            “In this Belgium Top 10, only four men had any chance at all of winning. Leading the contenders was Belgium’s #1 Thierry Cabrera, who last season had the best record (19-3) in the Bundesliga’s Second Division North. Next in line was Remo DeProphetis, Belgian World Team member and a player in the French Leagues who had a recent win over one of the Czech Broda brothers, and who in the past has beaten a number of world-class players—such as Mesaros of Yugoslavia and Kosanovic of Canada. The third man most likely to take the title was many-time Belgian Champion Daniel Nassaux, who won this tournament last year for the fifth time. And, finally, the fourth contender, the up and coming underdog, 14-year-old Jean-Michel Saive, Belgian National Junior Champion and one of the best cadets in Europe, who plays in the Bundesliga’s Second Division West.

            It was clear coming into the last two rounds that Cabrera, DeProphetis, and Saive were the only ones who could win. Nassaux, a lefty with a fine touch and a crisp forehand loop, had

eliminated himself by losing to both DeProphetis and Saive, players who show the hand-at-the-table speed so prevalent in today’s game.

            Surprisingly, Cabrera had dropped his fourth-round match to Serge Goffart, a left-hander who blocked and blocked and blocked until Cabrera gave him a weak ball and he could loop it in with his up-at-the-table book loop.

            Going into the later rounds, Saive, who plays a serve-and-loop game, combined with a fast backhand counter, had won several close matches and was undefeated. Now, however, he was up against the experienced Cabrera whose hard, cross-court backhand and strong forehand loop, especially loop to loop, clearly made him the favorite.

            Thierry won the first game at 18 with some good backhand kills and by stopping Jean-Michel’s forehand-loop attack. But in the second, Cabrera’s backhand wasn’t so hard, and Saive was looping better and faster. Jean-Michel often tried to play his first two loops into Thierry’s middle and then go wide to his backhand—a technique that turned out to be excellent (especially since Cabrera was unbeatable forehand loop to forehand loop). In the third, however, Thierry’s return of serve was much better and he started to be the aggressor, even when Jean-Michel had the first opportunity to open up. It was an excellent fight by the young Junior Champion, but Cabrera was just too strong.

            The Wild Man DeProphetis, who’d saved his money to buy a sports car (though supposedly he’d neglected to get a driver’s license) and who of course had cracked it up, was yet smart enough to notice that Saive had played all his rounds on the same table and so had requested a change—which was granted.

            Coming right off his loss to Cabrera, Saive was loose against undefeated DeProphetis, who has a weak backhand but a superb forehand topspin, and with his youthful ‘What have I got to lose attitude?’ played the best match of his life and the most exciting of the tournament.

            The few-hundred spectators were very enthusiastic over the many loop-to-loop and multiple-lob points, but the local TV people were not—they shamelessly creeped ridiculously close to the table, were in fact right next to the umpire rather than the flash-taking photographers who, just behind, also seemed blinded to the seriousness of the play.

            DeProphetis won the first merely by serving and looping the first ball in. But Saive turned the tables on him in the second, got his own first ball in. Moreover, he improved his serve return, so Remo couldn’t just serve and attack. Having built up a big second-game lead, young Jean-Michel began vainly playing further and further back from the table, favoring great arcing lobs much to the spectators’ delight. But his coaches wisely yelled, ‘Stay at the table!’—which finally he did and won the second close.

            At the break before the third game, Saive was again told in no uncertain terms to ‘Stay at the table!’Also, when DeProphetis looped, he was to go for a hard backhand down the line. This strategy worked perfectly and Remo couldn’t win, either loop-to-loop or by looping the first ball to Jean-Michel’s backhand.

            When Saive won his last match easily, all that was left was DeProphetis vs. Cabrera. If Remo won, then Jean-Michel would be the Champion, for Thierry would then have two losses, and Jean-Michel, tied with Remo (each with one loss), would win on the head-to-head tie-breaker. But Crazy Man DeProphetis was never really into it—it just seemed he couldn’t play hard for second. And so Cabrara won this Men’s Top 10—and deservingly so, for he’s Belgium’s best. [Or at least for a moment was. Later, at the Belgian Closed, DeProphetis would beat Cabrara for the Championship.] 

Women’s Play

            Barbara Lippens, World #44, whom Insook Bhushan beat 25-23 in the 3rd in a Team match at the ’83 Tokyo World’s, was clearly the favorite in the Women’s competition—though just as the Americans know how to play Eric Boggan, so les filles know how to play Lippens, and so the big difference in the Women’s international results did not wholly apply. Yet—talk about seedings—unbelievably the finish to this Top 10 was as follows: #1 seed (9-0); #2 (8-1); #3 (7-2); #4 (6-3); #5 (5-4); #6 (4-5); #7 (3-6); #8 (2-7); #9 (1-8); #10 (0-9). Still, watching the matches it was difficult for me to be convinced that it all ended up as the ratings would have it.

            Lippens, after posting game scores of 2 and 1, had only mild trouble with National Team member Nathalie Higuet. [Later, at the Belgian Closed, Higuet would be runner-up to Lippens.] The Championship came down to the last match between Lippens and Karien Bogaerts, a very talented, hard-looping girl with (‘How did she get them?’) Chinese strokes.

             This final match seemed to be something of an internecine war because Bogaerts apparently was Flemish-Belgian and Lippens French-speaking Belgian. Anyway, with the French-speaking fans on one side of the hall, and the louder, more enthusiastic supporters of Bogaerts on the other, it made for an interesting, spectator-involved final.

            I just couldn’t believe how fast this girl Bogaerts looped and killed. She refused to push a ball—not one. She’d open with a backhand then send in the (if I may use the word) blitzkrieg.

            After Ms. B had won the first, there seemed to be a lack of agreement between Father/Coach Lippens and his daughter. But to me whatever they talked about just seemed useless if this girl Bogaerts was on. Certainly her enthusiastic fans always had something to yell about because, since Lippens never hit that first ball, their player was just stealing the show.

            After his daughter had lost the first game, Father Lippens turned to me and said, ‘This is not Table Tennis, this is Ping Pong—that’s what Barbara’s playing.’

            At 13-all in the second, you could see the always sweet, innocent, ready-to-cry face of Lippens trying to bring back the bullet loops of…well, put it this way: as a spectator told me, ‘Boo is not a girl, she’s a boy.’

            But as Bogaerts just wouldn’t drop a ball or push one, and as Lippens, like all winners, as usual just hung in there and made fewer mistakes than her risky, shot-making opponent, guess who won? Lippens of course.

            At the completion of the match, this white-haired, eccentric father of hers stood up and shouted, ‘Bravo, Barbara! Bravo, Barbara! Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!’—all the while clapping furiously.

            Loser Bogaerts understandably didn’t appreciate this much and pointed to her head and made a motion suggesting that the man was crazy—an assessment her fans across the hall who were booing him agreed with. But this eccentric man pursuing a just end in his own eyes was not surprising to me and I knew he’d never yield the fight. He threw those booing him the usual arm and finger motion most universally known today.

            Daughter Barbara tried to calm her father down a bit, half by quieting him, and half by playing the father role herself, warning him to behave himself.

            Said Ms. Lippens apologetically to me, ‘My father—he’s crazy.’

            ‘Hey, look,’ I said, ‘I don’t wanna hear your problem’ [as if perhaps he had enough of one himself?]. 

Bundesliga Play

            Engelbert Huging, who finished 5th in the annual German Ranking Tournament (behind Bohm, Stellwag, Wosik, and Engel), reports on the second-half season (1984) of 10-team Bundesliga play (Timmy’s: Jan., 10; Feb.-Mar., 16; Apr., 8): 

            “Again this year, as last, Eric Boggan came fighting back after his loss to Danny Seemiller in the U.S. Closed. On returning to professional Bundesliga action, Eric led the League, had won all six of his matches—defeating such well-known players as George Bohm, the German National Champion (World #37), Stellan Bengtsson (1971 World Champion and now World #26), Hans-Joachim Nolten (former German National Team member who beat Eric in their earlier Bundesliga match this fall), Erik Lindh (World #13), and Milivoj Karakasevic (who, although he couldn’t play at the Tokyo World’s, was, before then, World #42).

            Early in this second half-season, Eric’s club, Bad Hamm, was assured of staying in the First Division, for, though losing 9-3 to last half-season’s top team, Saarbrucken, they defeated Bremen 9-7 [see Ben Nisbet’s description of that tie that follows] and Herbornseelbach, 9-7. As play proceeded through the next six rounds, Hamm defeated Reutlingen, 9-3, and tied with Heusenstamm and Julich, 8-8.

            History was made in this year’s Bundesliga season. For the first time ever, two teams—Saarbrucken and Dusseldorf—finished tied.

            Going into the 10th and last tie, Saarbrucken was two points ahead of Dusseldorf. But such a surprise was coming that the 4,000 spectators in the hall, along with those watching on Program 3 TV, couldn’t believe it when Dusseldorf won the first five matches. Dusseldorf’s #1 Desmond Douglas played brilliantly to beat Stellan Bengtsson and George Bohm.

            Poor Bengtsson. While he was sitting in the changing room preparing for this important tie, Saarbrucken owner Rebmann was introducing Jan-Ove Waldner as his next year’s new #1. [Not exactly calculated to bring out the best in Bengtsson, huh?] The 4,000 spectators clapped, but nobody whistled [in agreement?/in disagreement?]. Maybe if Bengtsson can’t play for Saarbrucken, he’ll be their trainer?” 

            It pleases me, since I’ve always wanted to bring illumination—the real world of Table Tennis—to U.S. readers, that now, with more diverse help, I’m able to present more and more articles on professional players for whom the Sport is a way of life. Here’s Ben Nisbet’s “Spectator at a Bundesliga Tie” article (Timmy’s, Feb.-Mar., 1984, 16): 

            “Two weeks ago I was sitting in the airport terminal in Iceland…on my way to Hamm, Germany to visit Bundesliger Eric Boggan for a week—after which I would be on my way to Vienna, where I’d be going to school for a semester. [Ben, an American citizen born in England, does get around.] It was 10 a.m., and about 10 degrees outside in the pitch-black darkness of a howling snowstorm. I took a second look at my plane ticket to make sure I read New York-Koln and not New York-Iceland.

            I got to Germany o.k., though, and for the next few days I’d be doing what most Germans do—which is to drink this fantastic beer and eat weinerschnitzel at the local gasthaus.

            I also got the opportunity to play at one of the tischtennis halls in Hamm, where they had 10 beautiful Joola tables. I noticed immediately that the Game is quite different here from that in the States because of the outstanding playing conditions. For example, defensive shots, like a quick chisel to the forehand or a random block to the corner, aren’t anywhere nearly as effective as they would be in the U.S. Any defensive winner here has to be scored decisively, whereas in America one sometimes falls into the sloppy habit merely of keeping the ball in play, hoping by playing conservatively to get the occasional advantage of a ‘skidder’ or ‘bad bounce’ ball. Here there was much better ball control than what I was used to, even among the weaker players. There were far fewer bad points—balls whiffed or hit on the edge of the racket. In Germany, much more so than in the U.S., it’s deemed important for the player to gain control of the ball and make decisive shots.

            On the way to Bremen (this particular week when I was visiting Eric, his Hamm team had an away from home tie), I got my first look at, my first feel of, the Autobahn, where speed- limit signs don’t exist. To say we made good time is an understatement.

            The Hamm-Bremen tie was held at a university that looked much like a modern U.S. school. In the gym stood two brand new Butterfly tables with Stiga nets. Surrounding these tables were barriers with advertisements on them. On one side of the gym lay the bleachers, which could hold 700 or more people. When Eric and I arrived there wasn’t a soul in the stands….But at 7:00 p.m. the first spectators began to arrive, and by 7:30 there were at least 400 people there.

            The tie began with two simultaneously played doubles matches. Even though I didn’t think these matches were particularly interesting, the home-crowd sure appreciated them, clapping each time Bremen scored a point.

            It was an hour into the tie before the first two interesting matches were played. Table #1 featured Hamm #2 Bernd Sonntag (#21 in Germany) vs. Bremen #1 Erik Lindh, a tall, quite thin but handsome Swedish kid (who was World #13). This, as it turned out, was a classic match between two spinners. Lindh, whose return of serve is the best I’ve ever seen, was too overpowering for Sonntag. Erik played right up at the table and looped balls right past Bernd with amazing consistency and smoothness. Lindh didn’t really seem to have strokes—he was able to do so much just with his wrists. Sonntag, despite being very quick, and always on top of the ball, was never in the match.

            Table #2 featured Eric Boggan (World #18) vs. Bremen #2 Hans Joachim ‘Hajo’ Nolten (a former German National Team member) now not as good as he was, who likes to play against anti-spin. In their earlier meeting, Hajo had beaten Eric.

            This was an important match for Eric, for he was looking to square things with Nolten and to establish himself as an outstanding #1 man. In the first game both players were tight. Eric was tentative on his forehand and rushing his backhand jab-kill that is so effective when he’s hot. Nolten, who when he’s consistent can be something of a near-great player, enjoyed a 12-8 lead, but then he became erratic and Eric took the first game.

            In the second, Hajo got his game together and with power loops and forehand smashes started to overpower Eric. But Eric was often playing well too and there were some great points. The crowd loved the competition and was very excited. Each time Eric lost a point they would clap and stomp their feet, so as to practically shake the gym. Eric began to get tentative and step back from the table—only to see Hajo’s lead widen. Down by five, Eric realized that he couldn’t go back, that he had to stay at the table and challenge Nolten’s power. He gained some ground. From 19-16 Nolten, five long world-class points were played—and when they were over Eric had rallied from 20-17 down to deuce it up. Then from 21-all Eric was just tougher, was able to stonewall down Hajo’s power loops. When Eric realized the match was over, he yelled out an American ‘Yeah!’ and ran around the court to shake Nolten’s hand. The crowd was silent—except for the seven fans rooting for Hamm, who cheered enthusiastically.

The best match of the tie was Eric vs. Erik. The American seemed to surprise the Swede, seemed more mentally prepared. Eric jumped off to an 11-3 lead and was taking his time between each point, which seemed to frustrate Lindh, whose natural rhythm is to play quickly. There were some exceptional points—and Erik was absolutely cat-like in getting to every one of Eric’s backhand kills. When Eric was up 1-0 and 13-7 in the second, I thought he was gonna run away with the match. But just then I heard someone say that Lindh was one of the world’s better players (he’s currently #3 in Europe) and that this match by no means could be considered over.

Sure enough, Erik got control of himself and the ball and soon his deceptively directed loops were finding the open table with deadly accuracy. Eric’s quick hands got him some points, but each time he scored he was lucky. Down 19-16, Lindh played three marvelous points. No wonder the crowd was going crazy—those points were the best I’ve seen in a long time. At 19-all, Eric, who’d not opened up once the whole match with a forehand loop, gave Erik a wicked hook serve and followed with a bullet loop-kill that went right past Lindh’s forehand. The crowd was silent—they were anxious of course for their Erik to deuce it. Eric took his time walking up to the table, then he served and Lindh returned it short to Eric’s backhand. But Eric had anticipated the return and was waiting for it—he smashed a backhand follow that lasered under Lindh’s forehand for the match. What a classic way to finish—with two decisive 3rd-ball winners.

The crowd turned their heads and began to watch the final points of the Sonntag-Nolten match. These were two rather even 2500 attackers, but today Bernd’s great serves and superior short game, followed by quick loops to the corners, took away Nolten’s power game, and Sonntag won two straight.

Hamm now had 8 points and needed only 1 more to clinch the upset victory. But it took them four matches to do it. Indeed, they had some anxious moments in the fourth doubles match before the Hamm team of Mattias Horing and Andreas Preuss prevailed in the third to secure the victory. This was a big win for Eric’s team, for it insured their next year’s place in the Championship Division of the Bundesliga.

After the showers, it was time for us to jump onto the Autobahn home. The ride was made much shorter with a happy Eric at the wheel, controlling both his tape deck and his consistent 100 mph speed. Soon it was time to go to the local gasthaus to celebrate the victory by eating goulash soup and drinking that unbelievable German beer.” 

European League: Czechs win; French Demoted

            In the European League, each tie consists of seven matches: five singles (including one women’s match), one men’s doubles, and one mixed doubles). Each of the eight teams plays every other team both at home and away in yearly alternating locations. In this year’s Super Division, there were big swings in the last round played in Poland. The Czechs secured victory with a 4-3 finish, while Yugoslavia, who’d been leading, lost to Hungary 4-3 and so came second.

The French team played the whole season without Secretin—so perhaps not surprisingly they fell (in the format of relegation and advancement) to the First Division. (Is it vanity or, just the reverse, an inferiority complex, that makes the Europeans call this second level of play the “First” Division?”)

It’s strange that Sweden—with Waldner, Appelgren, and Lindh—didn’t win the Championship. But in the last year Czechoslovakia, without any ponger having to depend on Orlowski and Dvoracek, has become a very good team. Pansky came second in the last European Top 12, and the Broda brothers, especially Vladimir, are also ever threatening. The Czechs are thus a good mixture of young and old players, and it could be that they have a chance to win the European Championship in Moscow this April.

Results: 1. Czechoslovakia. 2. Yugoslavia. 3. Sweden. 4. Poland. 5. England. 6. Hungary. 7. W. Germany. 8. France (demoted after last year’s advancement from the First Division). 

An American in Paris

The fall of the French allows me to stretch a segue all the way to Paris by way of New York aficionado Shazzi Felstein (Timmy’s, Feb.-Mar. , 1984, 7). I’ll let her tell you about her visit there: 

“Three weeks in Paris, the City of Lights, my favorite city, and of course all you readers know what I pack first—my table tennis gear. I had spent a lot of time in Paris years before, could still speak some French, had played at the USEG table tennis club, where one of the officials, a Monsieur Joseph Felstein, had speculated he was a distant cousin and made me welcome. On this visit, I didn’t see Mr. Felstein, but I was once again invited to play there. USEG is part of the Electric and Gas Union’s sports network, and is a determinedly non-elitist club for workers. There are 6 or 7 tables, and decent conditions. I’d say that all of the players there are under 2000, the women under 1700. As in all of the French clubs I know of, their best players compete in league matches which are considered quite important. Just like on my former visits here, I was cordially invited to play on the women’s team if I were going to be staying in Paris.

Another club I played at on this visit was Kremlin-Bicetre (no relation to Russia—it’s named after the neighborhood). This club is quite a contrast to USEG, as it is very elitist. Top players (including #1 Jacques Secretin) play here. I believe it is one of the strongest clubs in France. It seemed to be run by Vincent Purkart, Secretin’s partner in those famous table tennis exhibitions. The club has regular training sessions for different groups of players. For instance, Wednesday evenings are for women only, with one of the top 10 women players in France, Chantal Lavacherie, coaching. The conditions here are terrific, with glowing wooden floors that would look great in my living room. Although philosophically I approved of the spirit of the USEG workers club, I must admit that Kremlin-Bicetre was better for my game.

Another table tennis place I visited in Paris was Mr. Machomet’s table tennis emporium on the Rue du Faubourg Poissoniere, near Sare Coeur. He is a former top table tennis player, multilingual and friendly. He seemed to know everyone in table tennis including New York’s Doug Cartland and other mutual acquaintances. He has a very large store full of table tennis equipment. I was there on a Saturday. When he saw me reading a notice for a table tennis tournament that same weekend in Ponthierry, a town about 25 miles from Paris, he asked if I would like to play in it. ‘But wasn’t it too late?’ I said. No, not at all. The Juniors played on Saturday, all adult events took place on Sunday. He swept away my doubts, assured me that if I wanted to play he would get me in. Several phone calls later, he gave me the name and phone number of the man who would pick me up at the train station in Ponthierry and drive me to the tournament.

The next day, after wrestling with the suburban train system, I arrived in Pointhierry. I was met at the station, welcomed and introduced to the best women players there, who were all very nice to me. This tournament fascinated me, as I had never seen anything like it. There were almost 500 entrants in a regional tournament played on over 40 tables, without any top players present (except one woman), and no money but lots of trophies for first and second place finishers only. When I asked the women what first prize for Women’s Singles was, they told me it was a vacuum cleaner. I laughed so hard I was afraid they might take offense, but they just looked puzzled. Conditions were not so hot, and the noise level was very high, but the participants all seemed to really be enjoying themselves.

All of the events were played in round robin brackets, best 2 out of 3 games. I played in a rating-type event in addition to the Women’s Singles. I beat the other three players in my rating group (one of them deuce in the 3rd) and advanced to single elimination play, where I soon lost. The format of the Women’s Singles was a little different. There were 32 women, in 8 groups of four. We were driven over to play the Women’s round robins at the regular Pointhierry table tennis club, a facility with eight good tables, good lighting, good wood floors, and enough room to play. And Pointhierry is a small town! Two women would advance from each group to single elimination play where the first round would match the 8 group winners against the 8 second-place finishers.

I was seeded first in my group and had no difficulty beating the other three players (one was almost a beginner; the other two not bad). I kept trying to watch a Chinese girl living and studying in France. La Chinoise, as she was known by one and all, was far and away the best woman player there, and was expected to win easily. After the round robins we returned to the main hall. My next match was against the #2 finisher from another group, so I was once again the better player and I advanced to the quarter’s.

I was afraid this might be the end of the line for me, as my quarter-final opponent was supposed to be pretty good and I wasn’t playing too well. However, she seemed totally cold and unable to get going, and I advanced to the semi’s with no trouble (11, 11). This gave me great satisfaction as Mr. Machomet had told me that the officials thought there were at least 5 or 6 women there clearly better than me [including the one you soon lost to in the rating event?] Unfortunately, my next opponent was La Chinoise.

The tournament director was delighted with this turn of events. An international match! Quel bon spectacle for the hundreds of people there. I tried to explain to him that it was going to be a lousy spectacle because I was going to get killed, but he just laughed off my objections and set us up as the central attraction. The best thing about this match was how fast it ended. Every time she gave me her funny pips-out backhand I popped it up and she killed it. I felt so bad about not providing a better show for the spectators that I was reduced to making jokes to the onlookers throughout the match, trying to provide some entertainment. These seemed to go over pretty well, but for all I know they might have been laughing at my French instead of my jokes.

 Relieved that the match was over, I sat down to watch La Chinoise play the final against the #2 woman there, a French player named Schultz who I believe is just below the Top 10. La Chinoise killed her the first game as badly as she had beaten me. So, yes, I agreed with the nice lady’s assessment sitting next to me—that did indeed me console. La Chinoise speedily won, and presumably collected her vacuum cleaner before departing.

As for me, I was told that I had come in third, and offered my choice of a large baseboard radiator or an equally large heater and fan thing. When I asked if there was anything smaller I might take, they offered me my choice of 5th-to 8th-place prizes, all electronic appliances like hair dryers. When I said I would really like something small, light and non-electronic to carry back to New York on the plane, they finally came up with a much smaller prize, a small calculator and pen set that I was very pleased with. They offered it to me really reluctantly, with a thousand apologies, because it wasn’t a proper prize for me. They said if they had known that there would be an American there in contention for a prize, they would have made sure to have something more suitable. (‘A framed picture of President Reagan ?’ my cousin suggested.) They really were very, very nice. They hoped that I had enjoyed myself, and I assured them that I had.

There was another table tennis event that I attended while I was in Paris, one impossible to imagine taking place in the United States. This was a table tennis Pro-Am. It was the 7th Annual Tournament of Gentlemen, talking place at Pierre de Coubertin Stadium, to benefit cancer research. Reading the Program before things got underway, I learned that the table tennis participants consisted of 12 top French players, including such stars as Secretin, Claude Bergeret, and Brigitta Thiriet, four top Chinese players who had come for a large European tournament that week—Li Huifen, Jiao Zhimin, Cheng Yinghua, and Chen Longcan—and a whole slew of French celebrities.

There were two main events, both single elimination. One was a singles for the Amateurs—called the ‘Guests’—who played one 21-point game. The other event was a doubles, each team consisting of one champion and one guest. A single 31-point game would be played as follows: doubles to 10 points, champion vs. champion to 20, guest vs. guest to 31. I was sitting next to one of the French women from the Pointhierry tournament, and we were speculating as to whether the Chinese would play doubles. We both found it hard to imagine. We were interrupted by a tremendous, prolonged burst of applause and cheering. What or who had brought that on? Yannick Noah, French tennis star and one of the ‘guests,’ had arrived. Since becoming the first Frenchman in many years to win the French Open last spring, he had become a real super-hero here in France.

Play finally got underway with the first round of the Guest singles. Watching Noah, I was impressed with his big forehand topspin shot (excellent form—he looked like a table tennis player), and I picked him to win. When the doubles started, sure enough, the Chinese were playing. Everyone watched the match on the central table, which was Noah and a Chinese woman against a French comedian, Michel Lebb, and a Chinese man. The organizers had obviously arranged things in advance with Lebb to make this a sort of exhibition match. Lebb was truly, truly funny. From the first point on, he was doing funny things to his partner and performing in a way that had everyone laughing hysterically. I was staring at the faces of the Chinese players and coach, trying to figure out if they had been expecting this and what they thought of it, but I couldn’t tell.

Then, every time Lebb missed a point, he started jabbering in imitation pidgin-Chinese. Although I wasn’t sure it was in good taste, he was so funny that I couldn’t help laughing with everyone else. Now I was really looking at the Chinese players’ faces trying to guess their reactions, but I simply couldn’t tell. I did see the male Chinese player smile once, but otherwise the two Chinese played this match absolutely seriously, while Lebb carried on and the audience roared. This match will remain forever in my memory as one of the all-time great oddities of table tennis.

As the singles were played, Noah kept winning, to great applause. There were about a half-dozen guests who could play fairly decently. Some of them play in this tournament every year, although it was Noah’s first appearance. Noah did have some trouble with some of his opponents, including the chopper he played in the quarter’s. The chopper was a very distinguished-looking older gentleman who wore long white trousers. A long-sleeved dressy white shirt, and a white tennis sweater (in a hot hall!). He made a great contrast to the other guests who wore matching bright yellow shirts with either playing shorts, warm-up pants, or dungarees. The chopper must have taken the title ‘Tournament of Gentlemen’ seriously.

I don’t recall who won the doubles, but you couldn’t miss the Guest singles final. Noah finally prevailed in a deuce game that had more audience involvement than the finals of most major tournaments I’ve seen. There were thousands of spectators, and they all seemed to be screaming for Noah. Didn’t his opponent have any relatives there? Noah has referred to the immense pressure he’s been under in tennis since winning the French Open—due of course to the adulation and the great expectations of the French people. If this totally non-serious table tennis event was a sample, it must be really rough for him to play tennis. The crowd really wanted him to win, and seemed to expect him to win, even though he had some close competition.

Noah was interviewed after his win. If my French held up, I believe he said that he had a table tennis table at home and had practiced every night. I would guess that his USTTA rating would be very low right now, but give him some serious training and I have no doubt he could get very, very good. Of course he’d have to be crazy to give up the material rewards of tennis for table tennis. Still, he lives in Soho now, which makes him a neighbor of the New York City Club in Chinatown. Maybe he’d like to drop in some time?

Since the program was running late, I had to skip the Secretin-Purkart exhibition that was to end the evening. This act is famous around the table tennis world. I once saw a shortened version of it at a U.S. Open on Long Island, and I would have loved to see it again, but the buses and subways in Paris stop running at 1:00 a.m., and I just had time to sprint to the nearest Metro stop and catch the last train.

Some of the players at USEG told me about a tournament coming up that weekend that they assured me I would enjoy playing in. I was supposed to return to New York that Saturday night, but instead I could exchange my return ticket for one a week later at no extra charge. I was seriously tempted to stay, for I was having a lovely time and I was dying to play in another French tournament, but I finally decided that I really had to leave. So I said goodbye to Paris and the French table tennis scene and came home to New York, knowing that one day I would return again.”



            *D.M. Gunn, after having read table tennis articles by Tim, Scott, and Eric Boggan, now on seeing the writer’s name “C.S. Boggan” (Timmy’s, May, 1984, 15), was prompted to respond, “I am dismayed to note that there is yet another Boggan in the writing game. Who he?”

            Editor Tim responded, C.S. Boggan is Christopher Scott Boggan, which, I guess for the hell of it, is the way he signed the article. Comes from Christ-bearer and F. Scott Fitzgerald—my idea of course. In years to come, Scott will be known to many as “Chris.”

Now, uh, Don, what the “M” for? Never mind—I’m not dismayed.