History of U.S. Table Tennis - Volume I: 1928-1939 by Tim Boggan

Chapter XXVII. 1938 London World’s: U.S. Men’s Team Loses Play-off Chance for Swaythling Cup; Betty Henry Reaches Women’s Semi’s; Schiff Beaten in Men’s Quarter’s by Hazi; McClure and Schiff Win Men’s Doubles. 1938: Barna English Open Champ After Surviving 28-26 in-the-5th Match with Hendry. 1939: Bergmann Takes Offense from Vana to Win Cairo World’s (U.S. Not Entered).

The Team that our Association sent to the 1938 London World Championships--and had to borrow $200 from "its treasury" and $200 more from "loyal firms" to do it (TTT, Feb., 1938, 17)--was led by USTTA 3rd V.P. Morris Bassford. He'd Captain our play at this 8,000-seat, beautifully tiered-round Albert Hall venue, and, taking Zeisberg's titular place on the ITTF Advisory Committee, would represent us at the ITTF Congress.

Because of the USTTA's last season's differences with Montagu, without question the most powerful man in the ITTF and ETTA, the U.S. would not formally be admitted into these Championships until the ITTF Congress Meeting the day before the World's started. Consequently, we were not acknowledged in the Program with the other 24 members of the ITTF. However, as Defending Champions in both Swaythling and Corbillon Cup play, the U.S. contingent was graciously welcomed by the English--as might be seen in Tennis Illustrated’s photo of Victor Barna greeting our Women's Team and shaking hands with Mildred Wilkinson (Feb. 15, 1938, 14).* It was natural that Barna be a welcoming envoy because he'd been treated well in America and also because for these Championships he'd agreed to be the Coach/Trainer of the English Team.

The official ETTA-chosen color for their Team to this Jan. 24-29 World’s and the Feb. 3-5 English Open at Blackpool to follow was grey. Grey as if to show they were all deadly serious. Grey shirts, shoes, shorts or (since the women no longer had to wear those ugly divided-skirts) trousers. The staid English were slowly getting used to seeing women in trousers. There in a magazine photo I’ve already shown, racket-in-hand, was Austria's 17-year-old casually dressed Trude Pritzi--in short hair-cut, mannish jacket, and slacks. The caption began: "It's a girl!" (Tennis Illustrated, Feb. 15, 1938, 10). But the English still couldn't abandon themselves to the flamboyant colors that Ruth Aarons had initiated or that for Wembley and Blackpool Jimmy McClure had picked up on. Watching him in his bright silk trousers you might think that after one last winning forehand he'd follow through into a buck-and-wing--dance to scattered applause right off the court.

It was not only our clothes the table tennis world had noted. Following the U.S. example, the net for these Championships had been lowered from 6 and 3/4 inches to 6 inches, and all forms of fingerspin serves had been banned. Montagu, who personally had opposed lowering the net, pointed out that if the experiment didn't work, the Americans had at least shown at the '37 World's that they could go from playing at home with a 6-inch net to one 6 and 3/4 without suffering any ill effects. Montagu also personally opposed banning fingerspins; he thought they added variety to the play, speeded up the game--like the "ace service in Lawn Tennis" (Table Tennis, Oct. 1937, 2 and 5). But Barna said that, after the debacle in Baden, "the Hungarian Association decided that, if finger-spin was not banned, they would send to London not a team of table tennis players, but five jugglers" (Table Tennis, Nov., 1937, 7).

Also, for the first time in these Championships, the anti-chiseling 20-minutes-per-game Time Rule was instituted. ETTA Secretary W. J. "Bill" Pope wrote to all competitors that if a game wasn't finished after 20 minutes, whoever was ahead would be declared the winner of that game. If the score was tied, whoever won the next point would win the game. If after five minutes nobody had won a point, nobody would win the game. These were the recommendations of the ITTF Advisory Committee, Chaired by Montagu. Resisting the U.S.’s Expedite Rule, Ivor struggled to express his hope of finding a way of avoiding any more pit-pat ignominy:

"In so far as discredit is involved in these ‘pushing’ matches, it reposes not upon players--who must try their utmost, always by any means the sport leaves open to them--but upon the organisers and legislators who have not yet been ingenious enough to avoid the circumstances which lead to them" (Table Tennis, Oct., 1937, 11).

In actual play, the first time anyone would have to take notice of this new Rule would be in the Bergmann (Austria) vs. Mauritz (Germany) Swaythling Cup match. Bergmann was ahead 19-16 in the 3rd when the 20 minutes was up. When both Captains objected to ending the match, the umpire gave the players a little more time, then, with Bergmann still leading, finally awarded him the game.

Perhaps this was the incipient, insistent ding in Bergmann's psyche that will later prompt him--practically, scornfully--so the story, real or apocryphal, goes, to put, or try to put, several alarm clocks under the table timed to warn him at intervals of the strategy he need employ should he want, or not want, the impending moment of 20-minute truth to apply.** Anyway, the rare use of this Rule certainly suggests that the lower net really did encourage players to be aggressive.

U.S. Men’s Team Loses Play-Off Chance for Swaythling Cup Final

Because 16 teams were entered in Swaythling Cup play, the field was divided into two 8-team round robins. As it happened, our 6-1 record would not put us out of contention....

We opened with some 5-2 difficulty against Germany. Dieter Mauritz, the pre-and-post-War German National Champion, whom USTTA Ranking Chair Reg Hammond in a Results write-up too casually dismissed ("isn't that good"), beat both McClure and Grimes in 3 and gave Schiff, whom some thought to be the best player in the tournament, 20, 18 trouble enough.

England we beat 5-1, but the score doesn't reflect the closeness of the contest. McClure lost, -19, -20, to Ernie Bubley--an eccentric lefty from London's East End. Back when Ernie began to play in earnest, he was a stage violinist (Table Tennis, Dec., 1938, 10), and ever since had taken to wearing a glove on his playing hand, either because he sweated so, as I wrote earlier, or because he wanted to protect his fingers (Reid’s Victor Barna, 67) and/or have a better "feel," as Schiff in his Table Tennis Comes of Age suggests (129). England's great player Adrian Haydon acknowledged Bubley's lack of fluid strokes, his "rather ugly style," but correctly affirmed it's the player's record that counts (Table Tennis, Dec., 1938, 6). Another commentator put Bubley's game into better perspective when he spoke of his "fine half-volley defence, an extremely heavy forehand chop, and a most effective backhand flick" (Tennis Illustrated, Feb. 15, 1938, 13).

The hero of this U.S.--England tie was not the veteran McClure, who on the sleeve of his Team dress-jacket sported four stars signifying his fourth appearance in Swaythling Cup play (TTT, Mar., 1938, 5), but the internationally-inexperienced Pagliaro. As if still hearing the cheers of his Tompkins Square Boys Club buddies who'd gone to that New York pier to see him off, he came through in his first World's matches with two gutsy wins --over the graceful lawn-tennis player Eric Filby, -20, 19, 16, and over Hyman Lurie, a player capable of "brilliant spells," -18, 15, 20.

Poland we could lose to? Nope. First Sol scored sweet revenge over Milek Schieff (or, if you prefer, Schiff), who'd spoiled his perfect 21-1 Swaythling Cup record last year.*** Then he beat the World Singles runner-up the last two years, Alex Ehrlich, who'd earlier downed Hendry and McClure. So with a 5-2 win we continued our unbeaten streak.

Austria 5-3 stopped us though. Alfred Liebster, playing in his 11th straight World's, stood tall, won all 3, and 19-year-old Defending Singles Champion Richard Bergmann, though losing to McClure's steady drives and picks, won 2. Schiff had an -11, -22 moment in falling to Liebster, and Hendry had an 8, -19, -7 glorious chance for an upset over Bergmann. Had we been able to reverse one of these matches, George might well have beaten the weakest Austrian, Karl Schediwy, in the 9th match. (I might note, however, that the Viennese Schediwy, like his feminine counterpart Trude Pritzi, would be the 1938 "German" Champion after Hitler’s March takeover of Austria.)

But though we lost to the Austrians--surprise--England upset them 5-4. There was always the possibility that Helmuth Goebel, the Austrian third for this tie, wouldn't win a match, and he didn't. But Liebster lost not only to Filby, 18-in-the-3rd, but also to the ever-determined Bubley, 19-in-the-3rd, after Ernie had earlier -7, 19, 9 come from behind against Goebel.

According to today's tiebreaker rules, based on the percentage of matches won and lost among the contending teams, the U.S.(8-6) would have finished ahead of Austria (9-8) and England (6-9) and advanced to the final (where they might have successfully defended their Championship). However, since there were no tiebreaker rules in effect in 1938, there had to be an additional round-robin Play-off among the three top finishers to determine a finalist.

In this Play-off, England, with 5-1 losses to the U.S. and Austria, was not a factor. Though Bubley beat Pagliaro, 26-24 in the 3rd, he probably found Hendry's close-to-the-table defense too uncomfortably a mirror of his own, and irritably accused George of using banned fingerspins against him. Although some elaborate service wind-ups still allowed players to use fingerspins without detection, George did not take kindly to being unjustly accused. But as "the two captains agreed that Hendry had broken no rule," play proceeded without further incident.

Again the U.S. strongly contested the tie with Austria--but again lost 5-3. Liebster opened by beating Grimes two straight, the 2nd at 19. One point, where Grimes was "roaming 20 feet behind the table and returning 5 consecutive kill shots," prompted the United Press to report that the Liebster-Grimes match "stopped play on all other tables and had spectators applauding 5 minutes" (TTT, Mar., 1938, 6). Schiff then twice kept Schediwy under 10. Tie 1-1.

Now, though, McClure lost a -19, 22, -19 killer to Bergmann whom he'd downed in the earlier tie. The U.P. said "Bergmann beat McClure with magnificent deep defense and a final net-cord shot after Jimmy led 16-11 in [the] 3rd." Sol, continuing to play well, then easily disposed of Liebster whom he'd bowed to before. Grimes lost to Bergmann two straight, 19 in the 2nd. But McClure balanced with the expected win over Schediwy. Tie 3-3.

If we could win just one of the next two matches, Grimes might well beat Schediwy in the 9th match. But Bergmann, who'd knocked out Sol in 5 on his way to winning the '37 World's, and who'd defeated him earlier here, had the psychic strength, and/or luck, to prevail, 20, -18, 7. Bergmann said that he often won points against Schiff--"the hardest hitter in the world"--"by the sheer surprise of returns which neither he nor anybody else present considered returnable" (Twenty-One Up, 50). Perhaps Richard remembered that one particular point against Sol when, recovering from being sprawled face down on the floor after a spectacular retrieve, he was acrobatically up in time to smash in a backhand winner. Regarding this play-off match, the UP said that, after Bergmann had scored "innumerable net-cord shots," Schiff "gave up in disgust when 10 points behind."

That left McClure to...again lose to Liebster--18, 19. Many another day we might have won this tie, but today we lost six out of seven 19 or deuce games. That was the disappointing difference.

Perhaps, too, the fact that the English spectators were not on our side played a part in our loss. They cheered Bergmann and his unchanging, inscrutable expression. As Topics reported, they frowned on our verbal involvement. "Attaboy!"..."Hot diggety!"...and "Jumping Jehosephat!" most of the 5,000 watching found unsporting, even abhorrent (Mar., 1938, 8). Bergmann himself wrote of McClure "expressing emotions such as joy, disappointment, despair and concentration in a manner that would have done well on the stage" and chastises him "as one of the worst offenders of this kind" (Twenty-One Up, 50). However, Stanley N. Doust, writing in the London Daily Mail, felt that the "temperamental Americans' gesticulations and cries of woe when they lost some points were amusing" (TTT, Mar., 1938, 8). Moreover, the English players--Bubley, Lurie and Filby--attributed their success to the cues they took from the Americans. Filby, in an article for Topics, wrote that "bridge table etiquette and respectful silence was all right in its place but nervous and tense point-getting calls for an occasional out-let of feelings and a few timely exhortations from the sidelines. In other words we talked it up--with gestures and feeling" (Oct., 1938, 9).

In the Team final, undefeated Hungary topped Austria 5-3--when Bellak, who not long before had stopped Bergmann from winning a 3rd Austrian Open, also beat him here, and when both Barna and Tibor Hazi defeated Liebster and the hapless Schediwy.

Regarding the U.S. Team's round robin play in the 10-team Corbillon Cup, there's not much to say. We played Wilkinson and Harrison almost exclusively (Henry played no doubles and just three singles matches), and only France, Belgium, Ireland, and Holland did worse. Given our relatively weak players, we had no chance of successfully defending our title and finished with a 5-4 record. This gave us 4th-6th place, tied with (though we had the worst won/lost match percentage) Wales and woeful Hungary, missing for the first time the legendary Maria Mednyanszky, a World titleholder for 9 straight years, 1926-35).

Betty Henry Reaches Semi’s of ‘38 World’s

In the Women's Singles, however, there was an historic surprise. Incredibly, it would seem, Betty Henry, U.S. #16, would get to the semifinals of the Women's Singles! No doubt back in South Bend, population then about 100,000, that accomplishment would be big news, and not just among table tennis enthusiasts. The story of a home-town girl, who, like the New York World Champion Ruth Aarons before her, designs (and even sews) her own playing outfits (Reba Kirson in TTT, Nov., 1938, 11), and nearly wins another World Championship for the U.S.--that would be very appealing to many a Hoosier who took up his or her pen. But today, History's more savvy readers would want to know just how that unexpected advancement to the semi's uniquely happened.

The 1938 World's entry blank tells National Associations to give names in singles of "2, 3, or 4 players to be seeded [sic] in different halves or quarter's respectively," and in doubles "two pairs to be seeded [sic] in different halves." But though the effort's made to put players from the same country in different halves or quarter's (else they might meet in the first round), there still aren’t any seedings in this World's, or any other until 1948.

So, how much difference does this make? Plenty to Betty Henry. Consider the match-ups in the four quarter’s (Betty’s in the third):

lst Quarter: 1937 finalist and 1938 Champ-to-be Trude Pritzi of Austria, after playing in the first round the former two-time World Champion Marie Kettnerova (though now far from her best after being broken by her 1936 and 1937 losses to the U.S. World Champion Ruth Aarons), comes out to meet Margaret Osborne. She's the English #1, who, after drawing a bye, has played first one English entry, then another, the unpredictable Wendy Woodhead, who will go on to win the Mixed Doubles with Bellak and so become the first Englishwoman to hold a World title.

2nd Quarter: two-time World Champion Anna Sipos of Hungary comes out to meet last year and this year's World Women's Doubles Champ Vera Votrubcova of Czechoslovakia.

4th Quarter: the Czech Vlasha Depetrisova, this World's finalist and next year's Champion, comes out to meet the Hungarian #1, Dora Beregi, who had beaten Kettnerova badly in the Team competition earlier, and who, after winning the English Open at Blackpool following these Championships, would be a future World Women's Doubles Champ.

3rd Quarter: U.S. #16 Henry comes out to meet...

Well, not anyone she'd met in her three Corbillon Cup matches, two of which she'd won--against France's Chalamel (2-5) and Ireland's Yeates (1-8)--and one of which she'd lost--to Belgium's Coucke (3-7).

In the first round in this 3rd Quarter, Betty beat Edwards of Wales, 3-0 (Edwards did not play any Cup matches). In the second round she beat a player from Holland (Holland was 0-27 in 9 rounds of Cup play), a woman named Kiek who'd drawn a first round bye (this while Pritzi was playing Kettnerova in the first round!). In the third round Betty beat the young English #4, Phyllis Hodgkinson, in 4. Hodgkinson, the year before, had toured Australia for England's ladies' field hockey team. In Cup play here at Wembley she’d defeated Belgium's Coucke whom Betty had lost to. Hodgkinson's two earlier singles opponents had been weak: France's Chalamel, whom Betty had beaten in Cup play, and Wales's Morgan who had not played in the Cup.

So, in the very weak 3rd Quarter, Betty has reached the quarterfinal’s. And now she faces still another vulnerable opponent...the English Doris L. (not her sister, the stronger Dora M.) Emdin. Doris hadn’t played any Cup ties either. Emdin had gotten to the quarter's by beating...in the first round, an English entry, 18 in the 4th; in the second round, the Austrian #2 Lemo in 5 (who, though she'd beaten Wilkinson, was a mediocre 6-6 in the Cup); and, in the third round, the Czech #4, Holoubkova, 28-26 in the 5th (Holoubkova had been allowed to play only one doubles match in the Cup).

In these quarter's, Henry beat Emdin, 9, 17, -19, -4, 8, and so reached the semi's--where she was hopelessly outclassed by the Czech Depetrisova, 11, 3, 12.

In the final, Deptrisova, like Aarons the year before, began by trying to hit through Austria's totally defensive-minded Pritzi, who'd beaten Votrubcova in the semi's 3 straight. But then, oh, oh, the "whistling and catcalling" began, for Depetrisova, like Aarons, had to resort to chiseling rather than just quickly outright lose. After it was clear Depetrisova was capable of changing her strategy--Bellak wrote (TTT, Dec., 1939, 3) that, in addition to her "powerful forehand," she had a "half volley backhand" and a "hard, energetic chop"--the spectators reacted:

"The crowd were immediately up in arms, and--for the first time in the history of English table tennis--audiences barracked and booed two finalists. The very few attacking strokes which were made were sarcastically applauded to the echoes. It must have been a bad moment for Miss Pritzi, when, on winning the title, she heard scattered booing and hardly a clap....What is significant [then]...is that the chiselling, which, in the World Championship last year at Baden, threatened to kill table tennis as a spectacle, is now no longer tolerated--a great landmark in the history of the game" (Tennis Illustrated, Feb. 15, 1938, 9).

In doubles play, Betty continued to do the best she could. In the Women's, she paired with an English entry, Betty Steventon, to beat two unheralded Welsh players, 19 in the 5th, then lost to the English Team members Doris Jordan (later to be 1957 World runner-up Ann Haydon's mother) and Hodgkinson, 22-20 in the 4th. In the Mixed, Betty paired with about-to-be 3-time World Men's Doubles Champion McClure, but they lost their first match, -20, -20, 19, -15, understandably to England's Maurice Bergl and Jean Nicoll who’d win the Women’s at the 1939 English Open.

Henry, at 15, despite getting to the semi's of the 1938 World's and thus bringing some measure of fame to, and so helping to establish the legend of, the South Bend Y, was not a world-class player, and, as Fate would have it, never would be. But readers can see how here at Wembley she kept her poise to play the game she was capable of, and that’s certainly to her credit.

Topics columnist Reba Kirson likened Betty in looks to the film star Olivia de Haviland, and perhaps, in others' sometime fancy--to the many gallant and young at heart in South Bend, in Indiana, in the States--she was a plucky Maid Marian to Errol Flynn's dashingly insouciant 1938 Robin Hood.

And the other U.S. women who, with Henry's success, perhaps unjustly faded into the background--how'd they do?

Our #2, Clara Harrison, was 5-4 in the Team’s, despite a disheartening deuce-in-the-3rd loss to Hungary’s working girl Beregi who, more than once when refused permission by her employer to take off for a tournament, went anyway and, on coming back, had to find a new job and hopefully a new and very understanding boss (Table Tennis, Mar., 1939, 5). Then, in the Singles, Clara got by an English player in 4 before gamely losing to the Czech Votrubcova of the winning Corbillon Cup Team.

Wilkinson, our best hope, was known from the pre-tournament publicity to have gone 5 with Aarons in our '37 National's and to be the "Canadian national champion" [sic: for Toronto CNE winner], so it was strange--strange, that is, by today’s seeding and placing standards--that Mildred should meet Votrubcova in the first round, and strange that had Mildred won (she lost 3 straight) she would then have played our U.S. #2 Harrison.

Wilkinson's 4-5 record in the Team's might easily have been better--she lost deuce games to such respected players as Osborne, Beregi, and Sipos (now--after seeing her game decline as she completed her Med School studies--Dr. Sipos). But, regardless of how well Mildred did or did not play, perhaps too much had been expected of her by some members of the English Press. "Wilkinson," one wrote, "of whom we had heard so much, certainly did not seem to possess the quality of game for which she had been given credit" (Tennis Illustrated, Feb. 15, 1938, 9).

But Mildred played well in doubles. In the Women's with Harrison (who'd lost right away in the Mixed with Grimes) they had a solid 17, 18, 21 win over England's Jean Nicoll and Wendy Woodhead before losing to Osborne and D. M. Emdin, 20, -20, -12, -15. In the Mixed with Schiff, Mildred did even better: beat a French team in 4; a second French team, deuce in the 5th; the Hungarian Nationals Foldi and Beregi in 5; then finally, up 2-1, lost to Austria's Liebster and Pritzi in 5 in the quarter's.

Schiff Beaten in Quarter’s of ‘38 World’s by Hazi

In the Men's Singles, in which of course there were no seedings, two of the favorites, our Schiff and Poland's Ehrlich, met in the second round. Schiff felt that Ehrlich was a great player but that because he used too much topspin on his drives he slowed the ball down, and against some top players that proved fatal. Alex, mindful of previous losses to Sol, used to lay down his racket in mock defeat at the start of their matches, or at least that's what Sol said--and, indeed, if Sol hadn't -15, 11, 26, -21, 14 beaten him here, Ehrlich, since he was destined in Cairo in '39 to be runner-up again, might have been a finalist for four years in a row.

After getting by Alex, Sol advanced to the quarter's--the only U.S. player to do so--with a 17, 23, 20 victory over Filby, and an easy win over Chaimus Duskes. This Lithuanian--he'd defeat Max Marinko to win the '39 World's Consolation--had earlier taken out the Yugoslav, Adolph (later Allan) Herskovic who, almost 35 years and a new country later, would Captain our Team at the 1974 U.S. Open (TTT, May-June, 1974, 7).

Trying to get to the quarter's, and looking for a time as if he'd succeed, was our young George Hendry. He opened with an 18, 21, 17 win over Erno Foldi of the winning Swaythling Cup Hungarian Team. (Five years later--Ervin Brody, in a Nov., 1946, 14 article in Topics, would tell us--Foldi would be murdered in the Kiew forest by German SS men). Then George gave up 62 points, but nary a game, in stroking a 12, 31, 19 win over England's Stan Proffitt--the second game being perhaps the more remarkable for not exceeding the 20-minute time limit. Or did the players and/or the umpire not know about this new Rule (or not enforce it)? George told me it wasn’t until he was into his next match with Bergmann that he and Team Captain Bassford were made aware of the Rule. ("Bassford was a nice guy," said George, "but he didn’t know anything about table tennis.")

There were two instances in the Singles where the Time Rule was put into effect. The first with Mauritz again when, undramatically, he was up 16-11 in the 5th over the Hungarian Gardos. And the second, very dramatically, when the Englishman Stennett, 21-20 in the 5th, was awarded the game and match over the Yugoslav blocker Hexner who with his outsized wooden bat must have wanted to clobber the (English?) umpire.

In the 16th's Hendry again gave Bergmann more than a few uneasy moments before losing 16, -22, -17, -12. According to news reports, Hendry in the 1st simply outplayed Bergmann "at his own tireless game." Reportedly Bergmann had already played "four [sic] hard matches," and so repeatedly he "was forced to cool his eyes with a glass of water." Since Richard had won his first two singles, 9, 13, 7 and 3, 7, 5, and had lost the only doubles match he’d played in, 3-0, the "four hard matches" reference must be to Bergmann’s team play against the U.S. earlier that evening (in which he played three matches). More tired than tireless Richard might have been, for by the time the Bergmann-Hendry match got underway, it was so late the spectators had been cleared out of the Hall. Hendry might have won the 2nd, the reports went on to say, but he "began overdriving the table and missing easy points." Maybe. Anyway, George was valiantly out.

After he was initially pressured in his match with Hendry, Bergmann coasted through the first two games with the Hungarian Soos before having to brave out a 24-22 win in the 4th. Then against the Czech Slar he had what amounted to a 3-game walkover to the semi's.

On the other side of the Draw, Bernie Grimes's long-stroke all-around game was just 26-24 in the 5th good enough to have him limp away wounded but victorious from the quick, angled-off thrusts of the Hungarian half-volleyer Boros. McClure, meanwhile, didn't look as though he were going to advance to meet his teammate Grimes who by chance was adjacent to him in the Draw (as we had 5 men, only 4 of them could be put in separate quarter's). Before rallying, Jimmy was down 2-0 to the crafty Bellak, whom Schiff never thought to be "a hard hitter" but who taking advantage of the lowered net could all the more "angle you to death."

So after McClure's comeback against Bellak, how could he lose 3-0 to Grimes? He couldn't revitalize himself, had a natural let down? Perhaps. Certainly he told Bassford that when he had to play Grimes he was very tired. Bassford theorized that Jimmy's brilliant victory over Bergmann in the pre-Play-off tie had taken quite a bit out of him.

Against Vana's unrelenting attack in the eighth's, Grimes had no chance. Nor in the quarter's did Max Marinko who, in Swaythling Cup play last year, had defeated soon-to-be World Champ Bergmann 21-7 in the 3rd.

Pagliaro advanced easily over Kolar, who'd beaten him rather badly in our '37 U.S. Open. But he was no match for the Czech Vaclav Tereba, conqueror of Vana in an earlier tournament in Prague.

Barna would eventually meet Tereba, but back in the 2nd round he seemed intent on proving a point to 1936 World quarterfinalist, the "American Englishman," Gilbert Marshall. Back in Nov., Barna, rebutting an earlier magazine article by Marshall, had prophetically warned that "You, Gilbert, with all due respect, have not a complete game and the new [lower net] will not suit you" (Table Tennis, Nov., 1937, 7). Enough said? Not quite. Barna beat Marshall 13, 11, 5. However, that wasn't as humiliating as it might seem, for Victor didn't drop a game to anybody until (tiring?) he 14, 16, -21, 22 outlasted Tereba in the quarter's. In the semi’s, though, the youthful, attacking Vana was far too strong for him.

Coming out to meet our lone survivor Schiff in the quarter's was Tibor Hazi who in the eighth's had -20, 17, -20, 17, 23 barely won his battle with the Czech Milos Hamr. Hazi, Schiff knew, was a dangerous opponent. And, much more often than Sol could know then, would continue to be, for in 1939 with the beginning of Spring, Tibor and his wife Magda would leave Hungary and come to the States where they’d settle permanently. Hazi had a close-to-the-table chop; a good block; a European elbow-up forehand, hit with his unorthodox grip from the backhand side of his racket; and an excellent backhand flick. He hadn’t played for Hungary last year because, although he was both the Budapest and Hungarian Champion, he’d changed clubs--and the notion that one club could buy a National Team player from another had to be discouraged. Now, almost 26, he was an advanced-round veteran in three World’s and was ready to advance again.

Ready at the moment, anyway, for Captain Nattan of the Hungarian Team had just made an unusual request. Hazi had apparently strained his ankle, and, as it was sure to give him more and more trouble, would Schiff mind if, instead of playing the match as scheduled tomorrow, they played it today?

Sol talked this over with Captain Bassford, whom he liked, and when Bassford suggested that maybe Sol was better off playing Tibor today, before the ankle could be given more attention and rest, Schiff agreed. A big mistake. Hazi beat him 3-0. "I never saw a guy hop around so in my life," Sol would say later.

Next day, in the semi's, Bergmann romped over the bandaged-up Hazi who against his doctor's orders had tried to play. Tibor said that prior to the match he’d had his leg in a cast, which Bellak cut off for him before he went out to play. Bergmann, seeing Tibor limp, hit and dropped him, moved him around.

It was said that the ETTA had lost L500 running its 1935 World's. But for this one, 600 volunteers helped out, and, such was the respect table tennis had abroad, not a ticket was to be had. Who wanted to stay home on Finals Night? It was as if all of England's 3,800 clubs were trying to allot all 60,000 of its registered players reserved seats.

In the Men's final, broadcast by the BBC to all those table tennis fans who had to stay home, Bergmann won the first from Vana at deuce--but then (in part because of the lower net?) was annihilated in the next three. What happened? Perhaps Vana’s repertoire of serves put Bergmann at an immediate disadvantage. Table Tennis Historian Zdenko Uzorinac said that Vana "was the first player, after the so-called cheating finger-spin, to take advantage of the importance of the first serve as part of the attack" (Table Tennis Year, 1990, 45) Bergmann himself in a later interview stressed that the "days of point-winning attacks on both wings are over....Find your best wing," he says, "and concentrate on developing a winner on that hand" (Table Tennis, Dec., 1938, 7). Which of course is what 17-year-old Vana with his forehand had so superbly done. "Bergmann is wonderfully agile," wrote a London Express reporter, "and has an amazing defense but in spite of all his retrieving, Vana's shots invariably got him in the end. The Austrian, in fact, had little chance to attack himself."

In the '39 World's, then, Richard, despite a defense deemed redoubtable by so many other opponents, wouldn't have a prayer against Vana?...So it might seem. But I'll come back to that turnabout shortly.

McClure and Schiff Win 1938 World’s Men’s Doubles

In the Men's Doubles, Grimes and Pagliaro, with a favorable draw that offered them every chance of getting to the semi's, began with a 5-game win over the Germans Mauritz and Helmuth Hoffmann (who in the Singles had knocked out our Ohio #1 Cal Fuhrman). They'd then advanced easily over the Cor du Buy Dutch team, and not so easily over the Gilbert Marshall team, before losing in 5 to England's Filby and Lurie in the quarter's.

Defending Doubles Champ McClure with his new partner Schiff started -18, 12, 20, 17 shakily against an English team, then struggled through a 5-gamer with the Hungarians Soos and Foldi. This made things easier? Afraid not. They never felt safe until the 4th game against Liebster/Schediwy (who'd taken out Hendry/Fuhrman), and then, after losing the 3rd at deuce to go 2-1 down to Kolar and Tereba, fought back to win a place in the final.

Their opponents? Barna and Bellak, who after all these years were playing in their first World's together. And, supported by the English spectators, not doing badly either. Up 15-10 in the 5th, they looked to be winners....Then Sol, going for a shot, took a tumble--ohhh, twisted a leg, an ankle, did he? "It's alright," Sol said from the floor to Jimmy bending over him, "I'm O.K." "Yeah?" said Jimmy, mindful he didn't like the way the momentum of the match was going. "Well, stay there!"...

Out comes someone able to assist the injured, and after some delay ("stalling" we call it today), Schiff is pronounced fit, Jimmy (as is his feisty habit when in trouble) has doubtless doubled-up the already rolled-up cuffs of his trousers, and play resumes....

With an historic reversal. Though the Hungarians were leading in the end-game, Bellak, according to covering reporters, "repeatedly attempted outright winners," or, as Bergmann put it, Bellak "went hitting mad and attempted to kill the most impossible shots," which did not go in (Twenty-One Up, 53-54).

Poor "Laci"--I’m reminded of his youth and the remark his coach once made to him. Laci said that at deuce he used to hit in his opponent’s serve and score about 90% of the time. "Why do you do that?" asked his disapproving coach. "Because I win that way," said Laci. "But in the years to come you won’t," said his coach. At the end of this doubles match against McClure and Schiff, Bellak must have felt much as he did way back in 1928 when he'd blown that World Singles final to Mechlovits. In fact, could he consciously or unconsciously have been trying to make his flamboyant hitting "right" this time to balance the debacle of the past? Years later he'd reminisce, "All my life I rushed the ball--you can't do that." Final score: 21-19. World Doubles Championship for the 3rd straight time to the Americans--and, as a London Sunday Express headline had it, more than a few "Boos" too.

Consolation's, though, to Bellak. And another, much more meaningful title too--the Mixed Doubles. Laci had asked Barna to get him a partner, and he did--England’s Wendy Woodhead, who credits 1929 World Champion Fred Perry for getting her started in the game. Wendy, at maybe 5’9" (Laci says 5’ 11’’), towered over Bellak. But, since she could topspin from both sides, she turned out to be a perfect match for him. They won 5-game matches from Barna and Dora Emdin and, in the final, from Vana and Votrubcova, winners in both the previous and succeeding World’s. "I played over my head," said fun-loving Laci, as if he could also play the straight-man. "Well, you certainly didn’t play over hers," came the response from the wings.

The Awards Presentation, Sol and Jimmy agreed, was perfect. The Empire Pool and its 10,000 spectators were bathed in black. As the orchestra played The Star-Spangled Banner, the American flag was spotlighted...as was the official carrying the Men's Doubles medals...as were the honored recipients Sol and Jimmy. An unforgettable moment in American table tennis history.

Barna 1938 English Open Champion After Surviving 28-26-in-the-5th Match with Hendry

In the English Open at Blackpool that followed, the ebullient American players again made their presence felt. Hendry had a marvelous though 28-26 in the 5th losing match with Barna. "I was running everything down," George said years later. "Yeah, he really ran me. But so what? I was only 17."

Schiff once remarked about how much Barna looked the Champion, how well he carried himself, how no one ever said anything bad about him. Sol himself, however, felt Victor was a little stand-offish ("He wasn’t cold, but he wasn’t warm either"). Hendry found Barna much too aloof. After their incredible 5-game match--the two games Victor lost were the only ones he'd lose in the whole tournament--he hadn't a word to say to teenage George. A proud man Victor "Viki" Barna surely was. But Bellak remembers an occasion when he loved him for it:

"One time," said Laci, "Viki and I were invited for dinner at a rich man’s mansion.

As soon as we entered, the host asked us if we wished to play table tennis [play for our supper, so to speak] before or after eating. Whereupon Victor replied, without hesitation, that they had just come to say, ‘Sorry, but we can’t stay, and walked right out.’"

Barna went on in this English Open to beat Grimes in the semi's (oh, well, Bernie did get to see his Hertfordshire grandparents for the first time) and then Bellak in the final. Schiff (better he'd done this in that play-off tie at Wembley) knocked out Bergmann. "Richard made a point every time he hit," said Sol, "and would have beaten me easily if he had just driven more." But then Sol, like Pagliaro and McClure, lost to Bellak who’d seemed more than content to have given up one World Championship in exchange for another.

Bergmann Takes Offense from Vana to Win 1939 Cairo World’s (U.S. Not Entered)

Sol's comment about Bergmann as hitter indicated what Richard himself apparently didn't realize at the time he was capable of. Remarkably, by the '39 World's, which, because no U.S. Team will go to it I’m conveniently mentioning here rather than chronologically later (it’d be the first ever held outside Europe and the last until post-War Paris), the determined Bergmann had learned to beat Vana at his own game. Two preparatory tournaments in England were turning points for him. In the '39 English Open, down 2-0, and seeing that "defensive tactics do not pay against Vana," he suddenly forehand-attacked everything and pulled the match out. In the West of England Championships that followed, he never faltered in his attack and beat Vana, 3-0. And finally in the semi's of the Cairo World's, on his way to regaining the Championship, he banged in one last desperate ball to topple Vana 21-19 in the 5th (Twenty-One Up, 65-67).

Quite a change in style! Pertinent to his transformation from defender to aggressor were his remarks to an interviewer about how he quickly shifted from backhand defense to forehand attack:

"Nearly all the players I have seen in this country [England] use a side defence on the backhand....This I consider definitely wrong.

"Good backhand defence is played from in front of the body. This enables you to keep a good balance and to recover easily.

"But this is not all. By playing the defence in front of the body, two paces will put you in perfect position for a forehand drive, the surprise of which will probably gain the point.

"Try doing this with a side defence, and you will find that you will require at least four paces, and the shot can't be made properly because of lack of time" (Table Tennis, Dec., 1938, 7).

In that '39 World's, Bergmann also won the Men's Doubles--with Barna. Hungary had forbidden Barna to play, but he defiantly came anyway, and though he couldn't participate in the Team's, played in the Individual's, where, representing "England," a country that much appreciated him and that in 1947 both he and Bergmann would become naturalized citizens of, he won his last World title (see Reid’s Victor Barna, 67-69, and 80).


*There’s also a fine photo of the U.S. Team in Table Tennis, Feb., 1938, 6, and another good photo of the Men’s Team in Tennis Illustrated, Feb. 15, 1938, 23.

** See Dick Miles’s In Memoriam to Richard, TTT, July-Aug., 1970, 11. However, Bobby Gusikoff told me that he thought (in 1957?) Bergmann set an egg-timer by the leg of his table.

***Milek Schiff was #1 on the "Samson" team in Farnow, Poland at the same time (1936-39) that future U.S. Champion Bernie Bukiet played on the #2 "Maccabi" team in Chorzow, Poland with Sigmunt Nowarski (killed by the Nazis) and Henry Wiener (see Wiener’s 1995 letter to me).