History of U.S. Table Tennis Vol VIII
By Tim Boggan (Copyright 2008)
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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

 

            1976: World-Class Play Meant To Orient (Not Scare) Our Birmingham Teams.

 

            So if, through hoped-for sterling play in ‘77 in Birmingham, England, our U.S. Teams advance to the Championship Division, they’re likely to meet in ’79 in Pyongyang, North Korea...who?

            I’ll start with the Asians, then go on to the most significant year-ending European tournaments. Our Yugoslav correspondent Zdenko Uzorinac (TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1976, 3) tells us that “one of the greatest tournaments in the world took place in Shanghai, Sept. 19-22”—China’s “Friendship Invitational.” But before the table tennis action started, “all of China stood and paid their last respects to Chairman Mao. National table tennis representatives were part of a mass of a million people at Peking’s Great Square who observed three minutes of silence for this unforgettable man.”

            In Men’s Team play, underdog Japan defeated Mighty China, 5-3. “Of course some thought this curious—considering that in the same tournament the last four in Men’s Singles were all Chinese who virtually destroyed their ‘enemies.’” In this “overture” for the Birmingham World’s, China did not play such well-known masters as Hsu Shao-fa and Hsi En-ting, but they did use Liang Ko-liang and Li Chen-shih (though not Li in the Team’s!). In going with Wang Wen-jung and Kuo Yao-hua, China “kept in the shadows Huang Liang, 19-year-old famous shakehands defensive artist. Considered China’s “most dangerous (if not so secret) weapon,” Liang is introduced to us (TTT, July-Aug., 1976, 7-A; 27-A) by Scottish Champion Richard Yule.

            Richard says that when playing Liang “99% of the points are won or lost on the second or third ball.” He applies “severe backspin to the ball and with apparently the same action applies a severe lack of spin.” Consequently his opponents just “can’t maintain a rally”—they return the ball low into the net or high enough for Liang to loop-kill or smash in a winner. His racket is a masked accomplice: inverted backhand side with a thin layer of sponge but extremely thick rubber; pips-out forehand side with pips “2mm in length and extremely soft.”

            Yule speculates that “table tennis is becoming too difficult to play. Speeds are approaching human reaction time and a tremendous amount of practice time is required to gain the necessary ball control.” Standardization of playing surfaces are needed.

            Shanghai Results: Men’s Team: Final: Japan (5)—China A (3). Takashima d. the 1975 Chinese Champion Wang Wen-jung, 17, 11; Tetsuo Inoue lost to Liang Ko-liang, -13, -18; Kohno d. Kuo Yao-hua, 16, 20; Takashima d. Liang-19, 15, 20; Kohno d. Wang, 14, 19; Inoue d. Kuo, 14, 19; Kohno lost to Liang, 13, -16, 17; Takashima d. Kuo, 18, 20. Some other ties: Japan d. Sweden, 5-1 (Johansson didn’t play, was “recovering from a knee operation”); Sweden d. Yugoslavia, 5-1 (Stipancic didn’t play, was in the Army); China A d. Yugoslavia, 5-1, Japan d. Yugoslavia, 5-3, China A d. Sweden, 5-1….Final Placement: 1. Japan. 2. China A. 3. Sweden. 4. Yugoslavia. 5. West Germany. 6. Romania. 7. France. 8. China B (just a “filler” team at this Friendship tournament?).

            Women’s Team: Final: China (3)—Japan (1). Chang Li d. Fumiko Shinpo, 3-1; Chang Te-ying d. Sachiko Yokota, 2-0; Chang Li/Yang Ying lost to Yokota/Shinpo; 0-2; Chang Li d. Yokota, 2-0. Some other ties: China d. Sweden, 3-1; Japan d. Yugoslavia, 3-0; Sweden d. Yugoslavia, 3-1….Final Placement: 1. China. 2. Japan. 3. Sweden. 4. Yugoslavia. 5. Romania. 6. France. 7. China B. 8. West Germany.

            Men’s Singles. Final: former China Champ Li Chen-shih d.’76 Asian Champ Liang Ko-liang, 22-20 in the fourth. Semi’s: Li d. former Chinese Champ Kuo Yao-hua, 22-20 in the 5th; Liang Ko-liang d. Huang Liang, -15, 13, 18, 17. Quarter’s: Liang Ko-liang d. Norio Takashima, 17, 18, 19; Huang Liang d. Stellan Bengtsson, 15, 15, 18; Li Chen-shih d. Mitsuru Kohno, 8, 10, -17, 21; Kuo Yao-hua d. Katsuyuki Abe, 16, 18, 8.

            Women’s Singles. Final: China’s left-handed ’76 Asian Games Champion Chang Li, “by far the best woman player,” d. Ke Hsian-Ai, 15, 12, -17, 14. Semi’s: Chang Li d Chang Te-ying (whom our Insook would play a marvelous match against in Birmingham); Ke Hsian-Ai d. Yang Ying, 17, 20, 19. Quarter’s: Chang Li d. Eva Ferenczi, 3-0; Chang Te-ying d. Shinpo, 3-0; Ke Hsian-Ai d.Erzebet Palatinus, 3-0;Yang Ying d. European Cadet Champ Gordana Perkucin.

            Men’s Doubles: Final: Secretin/Birocheau d. Surbek/Jurcic, 23, 18, -13, 18. Both these teams beat the top Chinese in the semi’s. Women’s Doubles: Final: Yokota/Shinpo d. Chang Li/Chang Te-ying, 21, 15, 19. Mixed Doubles: Surbek/Palatinus d. Isao Nakandakare/Yokota, -19, 16, -15, 12, 21. Doubles results were appropriate for a Friendship Invitational, said Zdenko.

            France went to the Oct. 22-24 Polish Open at Krakow and did quite well. Jacques Secretin won the Men’s from his teammate Patrick Birocheau who stands out in the French record books as a National Men’s Champion—that title coming in the midst of  a lost-count (16? 17? 18?) group of  others all won by Secretin. In the Women’s, France’s Claude Bergeret, after downing Ivaszko in 5, lost in the final to the Czech Blanka Silhanova. Men’s Doubles: Secretin/Birocheau over Mesaros/Molnar. Women’s Doubles: Ursula Hirschmuller/Schmidt over Marie Lindblad/Anneli Hernvall. Mixed Doubles: Kucharski/Patko over Molnar/Ivaszko. 

            Yugoslavia made its mark at both the Italian Open and the Balkan Games. In Milan, in the Men’s final, Zoran Kalinic stood tall, rallying against teammate Jurcic from down 2-1 and 20-all in the 4th. In the semi’s, it was Kalinic over Poland’s Stanislaw Franczyk, and Jurcic over Denmark’s Johnny Hansen. Two Yugoslavs also fought it out in the Women’s final—Branka Batinic beat Dubravka Fabri in the 5th. Men’s Doubles went to Bosi/Malesei over the Netherlands pair of Van Der Helm/Van Slobbe. Women’s Doubles to the Yugos over Belgium’s Germiat sisters. In the Mixed, Kalinic/Batinic were upset by Van Der Helm/Hetzel.

            At the Balkan Games in Samsun, Turkey, Zoran “Zoki” Kosanovic, who in a few years will be immigrating to Canada, defeated Bulgaria’s Djevat Hassanov to win the Men’s. Batinic beat Maria Alexandru, 18 in the 5th, in the Women’s. But Alexandru paired with Rumania’s Teodor “Doru” Gheorghe to win the Mixed. Gheorghe/Serban Dobosi (both of whom beat Karakasevic in the Team’s) took the Men’s Doubles from Karakasevic/Kosanovic. Three decades later, “Doru” will be our USATT’s Executive/Technical Director and National Coach.

            The three most important European winter tournaments are played back-to-back-to-back from Nov. 18-20 (Yugoslav Open) through Nov. 25-28 (Scandinavian Open) through Dec. 3-5 (French Open). Players look to peak for these before resting and preparing to peak again for the Mar. 26-Apr. 5 World’s.

            Zdenko Uzorinac, in his report on the 1976 Novi Sad Yugoslav Open (TTT, Jan.-Feb., 1977, 2) said the Fair Hall venue drew 130 players from 17 nations. Attending were the Chinese, whose Team in Birmingham figured to be Liang Ko-liang (in the latest World Rankings printed in the Mar.-Apr., ’77 issue of Topics, World #3), Kuo Yao-hua (the Defending Men’s Champion here and World # 2), Li Chen-shih (World #6), and “miraculous defender” Huang Liang (World #12).

            Zdenko, in covering the Team final between China and Yugoslavia, said that after Dragutin Surbek (World # 5) had beaten KuoYao-hua, and Kosanovic had lost to Liang Ko-liang, the Yugos had won the doubles to take a 2-1 lead. Of course the partisan audience was wired for an upset—“Surba! Surba!” they were screaming. But though the acrobatic Surbek went all-out against Liang, and though at 20-20 a first game was within his reach, he lost two straight, as did Kosanovic to Liang Ko-liang.

            China blitzed North Korea to win the Women’s Teams—with Ke Hsin-Ai downing World Champion PakYung Sun two straight. Women’s Singles: In the final, the North Korean Pak (World #1), nothing to it, reversed her loss in the Team’s to Ke Hsin-Ai (World #3)—won easily, 10, 14, 17. Semi’s: Pak over Chang Te-ying (World #4); Ke over Chu Hsiang Yun. Women’s Doubles: Ke Hsin-Ai-Lin Hsin Jin over Chang Te-ying/Chu Hi Sin, 16, 9, 16. Mixed Doubles: Liang Ko-liang/Ke Hsin-Ai over Orlowski/Ilona Uhlikova.

            In the Men’s Singles, the Hungarians, with “all their ‘big guns’ blazing—Jonyer, Gergely, and Klampar—surprised everyone (including the Chinese apparently, for they didn’t have a man in the final). Uzorinac said the Hungarians are the “strongest team in Europe”—though he doesn’t try to explain their 3-1 loss here in the Team’s to Sweden (in Johansson’s knee-injury absence, Bengtsson and Ulf Thorsell). Jonyer (World #1 and the Defending World Champion), Zdenko says, is playing well after his knee operation. He “uses his backhand much more than before,” and he gets lots of topspin on his forehand. “Sometimes, too, Jonyer returns the ball like a great defender!”

            Final: Dragutin Surbek over Tibor Klampar (World #7), 19 in the 5th. The Dragon, down 13-8 in the 5th, fought “like a lion,” said Zdenko. It was his 4th Yugoslav Open win. Semi’s: Surbek over Liang Ko-liang, 12, 15, 17; Klampar over Jonyer, -17, 20, 13, 16. Quarter’s: Surbek over Orlowski (World #13), 20, -17, 13, -9, 15; Liang Ko-liang over Bengtsson, 16, 8, 14;  Klampar over Lu Chen Wei, 18, -9, 14, 18; Jonyer over Kuo Yao-hua, 19, 19, 19. Men’s Doubles: Orlowski/Gergely over Surbek/Kosanovic, deuce in the 4th (Jonyer and Klampar are now back playing together).         

            Surbek was asked if he was tired after all this play. Tired? No, he said, know why?” “Three times a day an excellent fizioterapeutic’s fingers make me “another” player, one capable always at the beginning of my matches to fight like a tiger. And at my age, 30, this is very important.”

            Next up, the annual Scandinavian Open…at Kristianstad, Sweden (TTT, Jan.-Feb., 1977, 4). No Johansson/Alser* in this one, though. In the Men’s Team’s, in semi’s play, Hungary won 3-2 over China (Liang Ko-liang and Kuo Yao-hua didn’t play). In the final, Hungary stopped Sweden 3-1 (Bengtsson/Thorsell beat Jonyer/Klampar in the Doubles—suggesting that the old partnership has to work out a few kinks). In the Women’s Team’s, China blanked Hungary who’d downed (upset?) North Korea, 3-2.

            Men’s Singles: Final: KuoYao-hua over European Champ Secretin, 19, 10, 17. The Frenchman was up 19-17 in the 1st when only he heard Kuo’s ball tick the table. A good sport, he insisted the point go to the Chinese. Kuo then went on to win the game 21-19. Semi’s: Secretin 3-0 over Klampar who way back in the eighth’s beat Liang-Ko-liang in 5; Kuo over Jonyer, 3-2. Some surprising results: (World #18) Jochen Leiss over Orlowski, 3-0; Thorsell over Surbek, 3-0; and Des Douglas over Bengtsson. Men’s Doubles: Liang/Kuo Yao-hua over Orlowski/Gergely (from down 2-1). Mixed Doubles: Liang/Ke Hsin-Ai over Surbek/Palatinus

            Women’s Singles. Final: North Korea’s Pak Yung Sun over China’s Chu Hsiang Yun in 4. Semi’s: Pak over Chang Te-ying, 3-0; Chu over Ke Hsin-Ai, 3-0.

Women’s Doubles: Pak/Kim Chang Ae over Ke/Lin Hsien Jin in 5. With Pak’s showing here, says Zdenko, she becomes the favorite to win at Birmingham—though, remember, China’s best, Chang Li, didn’t take this European trip. We hear from Uzorinac that “Pak is a member of the ‘February 8th’ Club—a reminder of the day when the Army of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was created. She is an officer, a professional soldier (!) and lives in Pyongyang….‘I did not receive any money for winning the Calcutta World’s,’ she said recently. ‘It was my contribution to my country and people—I gave to them, to Korea, our first gold medal in sport.’”

            At the French Open’s Pierre Coubertin Sports Hall in Paris (TTT, Jan.-Feb., 1977, 4), Hungary’s Judit Magos won the Women’s over Sweden’s Ann-Christin Hellman. Women’s Doubles winners were Beatrix Kishazi/Wiebke Hendriksen over Hirschmuller/Kirsten Kruger. The Mixed was won by Karakasevic/Gordana Perkucin over Wilfried Lieck/Hendricksen. In the Men’s final, Jonyer had a comfortable lead, up 2-0 and 18-16. “But then some timely edge balls helped Secretin reverse the situation 100%,” and to the delight of the home crowd he won in 5. Men’s Doubles, however, went to Jonyer/Klampar over Leiss/Peter Engel.

            Scotland’s #1, Richard Yule (TTT, Mar.-Apr., 1977, 6), has some things to say about the Hungarian Men’s play in general and in particular at the French Open. The Hungarians all attack from mid-court with a low-starting, long-sweeping forehand that generates violent and well-paced topspin/sidespin. “The backhand topspin is executed with the wrist and the forearm and is also begun low with the knees bent.” Much training is done to improve the strength of the player’s “arms and especially the legs.” But while the Hungarians are “extremely powerful, they aren’t very fast.” However, they all have a great touch so they can “take the initiative with short spinning serves, or by well-placed returns of serve.”

            Yule says “Jonyer plays up to 6-7 hours per day. Klampar, one of the less courageous, only practices 4-5 hours per day. They are real ‘State’ athletes. That is, they are employed by the railway and the post office. Training is spread throughout the day with a lot of weight training, using heavy weights for the arms and legs, and shadow play, using heavy training rackets.

            Of course the U.S. has State athletes too; the Seemillers—they’re from Pennsylvania—come instantly to mind. Team Captain Bozorgzadeh wants everyone to know how our U.S. Teams are handicapped by a lack of patronage. Compared to the Championship teams, we come up short, way short. “China, for hosting just one Friendship Asian-African-Latin America tournament, will spend $6,000,000. The Russians will sponsor 27 International table tennis Meets in one season, the Chinese at least 35. China often has as many as five top-echelon teams performing around the world simultaneously. Japan operates similarly. Nor is Geography on our side. With the European countries so close together, their players can pick up and go to competitions easily and at not too great a cost.”              

            In the Men’s Singles at Paris, Klampar lost to Germany’s five-time National Champion Lieck. His “rapid blocks to all sides of the table” didn’t allow Klampar time to impose his powerful forehand. Gergely, after mounting a desperate rally, got by Birocheau, but then succumbed to Secretin. And that’s because, though in spinning the ball he often made openings, he couldn’t smash forehand winners. Yule says that Jonyer, “now playing with blue attacking ‘Tackiness’ rubber,” looked really good in winning the first two games with “some quite fantastic backhand and forehand sidespins.” Gradually, however, Secretin began anticipating where the ball was going and was there “to return an equally well-placed topspin.” True, their topspin match was fun to watch, but Jonyer’s technique is deficient in “mobility of speed,” and the “lack of a killer stroke.”

            And our players—what kind of techniques have they? And their challengers? We’re going to find out. Our Teams are about to play at the $80 million-dollar National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England, in “the largest table tennis event ever held.”

If our Teams are going to advance into world-class Category I, they’ll need some support. So, it goes without saying, if by any means you can, please be there.…

 

SELECTED NOTES

            *I have to note a sad ending to this chapter. Sweden’s great European Champion Hans “Hasse” Alser, whom readers of these volumes have followed for years, died in a plane crash in Jan., 1977. Of course many aficionados the world over immediately paid homage to him, including two in the U.S.—International Chair Rufford Harrison, and Editor/Journalist Tim Boggan. Here are their remembrances.

 

                                                A PLAYER’S PLAYER

 

            The memories of Hans Alser crowd each other, mixing Alser the man, Alser the player, Alser the horse racer, Alser the coach. Unconsciously he showed us the height to which our sport had risen in Sweden. We had gone to the top of the Empire State Building one day, where an unknown Swede recognized him as the national champion. Equally unconsciously he mirrored the freedom of Europe when he was stopped, just in time, from changing on the sand at Jones Beach.

            I suppose I must remember him, though, for what he exacted from the sport and what he put into it. He was an accurate player who demanded accuracy in his equipment. The table wasn’t quite to his taste in a tournament of Geza Gazdag’s in New York. Hasse turned to me, pointing to his racket, and in his Swedish lilt he noted that the ball hit “here” instead of “here”; the two points were about an inch apart. It was quite inconceivable to him that he could have been slightly off that day.

            He was also a determined player. In spite of his own statement that he felt in trouble if he ever had to retreat from the table, it is as a defender that I most remember him, since it was his defense that was so spectacular. In that same tournament of Gazdag’s, Hasse was covering every inch of the back court. The sweat was dripping from his chin and down his arms as he returned kill after kill. Once he dived across the court to a ball that was surely out of his reach, but managed to put it up in what looked like a beautiful lob, only to see it miss by an inch. When asked why he looked so disgusted with himself, he remarked that any time he could get rubber on the ball, it should go back on the table.

            Above all, Hasse was a fit player, one of the first of the modern generation of Europeans. After the Eastern Open in Wilmington, DE in 1964, he and I went out to the sidewalk where I left him, loaded with trophies and bags, while I went to fetch the car. When I returned, the pile of equipment and loot was in the middle of the sidewalk, but Hasse was nowhere in sight. He loomed up through the almost midnight darkness a few minutes later, after a run round a few city blocks.

            The term “a player’s player” has always had a nebulous meaning for me, but it takes on a new significance when I think of Hans Alser.

 

                                                                                                            J. Rufford Harrison