From:  nettadave2005 (nettadave200)   May-30 6:16 pm 

(slightly re-edited from an internet posting elsewhere)

 I'll jump in with my first impressions after seeing the the KillerSpin Extreme 2005 from a nice seat in section 16 at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

The overall quality of play seems to have been the best yet of the Killerspin events.

Of course I only saw the others on TV, and as a past 'amateur' (unpaid) US Open video producer, I know how really difficult it is to fully capture the power and precision of these players that is so evident in person. So for me, watching from row R, this one had an advantage coming out of the box, but I really do think the players did an even better job of bringing intensity and competitive balance onto the court than in previous Killerspin matches I'd seen on TV.

Out of the near 20 matches in both sessions I'd rate most as very good, only a few as average and at least a half a dozen as outstanding to spectacular.

Compared to a like number of any other sporting contests, that is a very good percentage and should result in a lot of excellent TV exposure for the sport when it reaches ESPN2 this fall (September?).

While watching one of the matches with a group of Connecticut players, between seeing some spectacular play, and also noticing the large percentage of Asian faces in the stands, I joked :

" They've got it backwards - they shouldn't call JO Waldner the Michael Jordan of Table Tennis, they should be calling Michael Jordan the JO Waldner of Basketball."

If Jordan was surprised to fail when he tried on Baseball after his first retirement, I'd challenge him to dig/chop an explosive Karakasevic Loop from near the floor 12 feet from the table and then run in - and stop on a dime - to smash the resulting drop-shot.

While I think the crowd was good, considering the circumstances - maybe two or three thousand players (each session) in a massive arena of 10,000 seats, hopefully next year, with more advance publicity and this years likely positive word-of-mouth buzz, the event can fill at least 4 or 5 thousand of the very good seats that were available.

(While still rather close to the action in this well designed new arena, the highest tier of seats would need to glance regularly at the jumbo-tron screens for the more ground-level angles needed to fully appreciate the diving arcs of the loops.)

As with so many other major American table tennis events, being on a three-day holiday weekend (memorial day) should ultimately be an advantage. But while a large enough contingent of our Connecticut club players were in attendance to cause me to cancel our usual Sunday evening session, a number of players, especially kids and fathers with families, were disappointed to tell me they were stuck with other prior holiday plans and couldn't change them this year.

Having seen in person, and extensively filmed, the (now veteran) European/Scandinavian stars in some great US Open matches in the 90's, and knowing that the Killerspin format is designed to be viewer friendly for the novice masses rather than us jaded and demanding 'insiders', I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of play was both a good introduction to kids and basement players who peppered this 'live' audience (and more importantly will comprise the vast majority of the (US) television audience) but also engaging and exciting for even us 2000+ rated players who know the difference between an 'exhibition point' and a competitive point that just looks like one.

Of course this was a hybrid of sorts, an exhibition style tournament with $100,000 plus for the players ( but a satisfying 'hybrid', that even excited local player/friend/rivals seated near me like former Jamaican Champ Ernest Virgo and other Caribbean transplants to Connecticut's table tennis like Wilbert Lawrence and Clyde Triumph.

Though he may never surpass his gutsy and powerful come-from behind victory over Olympic Gold Medallist Yoo Nam Kyu  in the 1991 US Open in Midland, Mi., Zoran Primorac looked strong and still the ideal role-model for any aspiring Shakehands two-wing looper, both with clean and powerful strokes, and fluid footwork and aggressive tactics.

Like the other veterans, Waldner and Persson, Zoran was intense, but also occasionally playful and enjoying the battle - a nice balance, particularly as role-models for a new generation of American players via ESPN. (Someone else suggested that the Chinese champions seemed simply to be doing their duty - and I can't disagree with that impression) 

I often noticed the European players smile or even occasionally laugh when their opponent ended a spectacular point with an even more spectacular winner - something I never saw the Asian players do, in spite of plenty of equally spectacular play in some, if not all of their matches. Seems to me to be a little sad to spend a lifetime developing such incredible skills and yet to seem to take no pleasure in it.

Waldner's first appearance of the day, during the afternoon session, in his (hopefully at least. as long as singer Cher's ) farewell tour, saw him tested by North American champ Johnny Huang's Pips-out countering and hitting.

Fortunately for everyone in the room but Johnny, just weeks removed from his last World Championship, J-O was match fit and so not thrown off by the slightly dead, slightly slower pace of the Canadian's hitting and countering as has victimized so many top world players at times in the past resulting in good exchanges and more winners than errors though some of Waldner's points were gained with powerful shots that Huang could reach but couldn't quite control with the pips-out, and lobbing that consistently fell onto the table from the rafters .

Waldner and Persson finished the day's matches on opposite sides of the table as opponents rather than team-mates in a long-delayed rematch of Persson's lone Men's Singles World championship win over J-O many years ago during the period when 'Sweden ruled the (TT) World'. Their match, deciding the day's team contest, started slowly with some sloppy play, which combined with no clear favorite (or villain) among the combatants, seemed to be leading to a quiet and disappointing end to a day of great matches.

Fortunately during the second game they began to gradually ratchet up the quality of play and by the deciding game had themselves, and the crowd enthusiastically into the match, which they finished with a spectacular lobbing point with Waldner making incredible returns far and wide into his forehand side.

And in spite of being unintentionally handicapped when the 40mm ball removed some of the subtlety of spin variation as effective weapons, during their matches against 4 different attackers during the day, defenders Joo Se Hyuk and Koji Matsushita made up the difference by mixing surprise attacking and sheer stamina, (another past advantage for choppers inadvertently reduced by another rule change, the 11 point game).

While some of the ITTF's past rule changes were clearly positive, like banning hidden serves, and excessively long-pips, and single color rackets, I hope they realize that the accomplishment of boosting our sport's image, especially in the USA but also elsewhere, mainly depends on the type of marketing strategies and hard work that Mr. Blackwell is investing in our sport.

Had Robert been born ten or twenty years earlier, these players might already be the house-hold names in the USA, that they long have been in so much of the rest of the world. (And maybe they really would now be calling Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods the 'JO Waldner's' of their respective sports)

Oh were it a perfect and just world like that !
Where - to borrow from ML King and (add my own 'spin') all men were judged by the content of their character - (and all sports were judged by the quality of their skill)

Congratulations to the Killerspin Team, including a prominent contingent of Connecticut volunteers, and Mohegan Sun for an exciting event. (I won't spoil your future TV enjoyment by detailing any match results (here) 

-Dave Strang
Connecticut Table Tennis