2005 Matthew J. Murad Memorial Open

It was no walk in the park for Thomas Keinath at the 2005 Matthew J. Murad Memorial, but when the dust had settled and all accounts were in, the player from Germany took his second straight Open Singles title on the STIGA Tour.

The Matthew J. Murad Memorial is a special tournament to us, a living memoriam to a friend and clubmate taken from us too early in his life. Matt’s parents, Ronald and Gloria, have vigorously supported the tournament since 2000, remembering Matt’s love of the game and expressing their love for him by offering substantial prize money to the competitors.

Last seen capturing the New Jersey Open title, Keinath was once again the top seed for the Open Singles category at this Maryland tournament. Once again, his major opposition figured to come from David Zhuang, the five-time US Men’s Singles Champion and Westfield, NJ stalwart. Not that there were not other players in the hunt!

The Open Singles Quarterfinal bracket included US Men’s Team member Han Xiao, the quickly improving Samson Dubina, long-pip twiddling John Wetzler, Maryland veteran Vladimir Poradich, New Jersey spinmaster Larry Bavly and Keinath’s European running mate, Stefan Feth. While some noted the disparity in rating (and expectation) between the final eight, no one could deny the pleasure of the opportunity to share in the prize money and face top-flight talent!

Playing on the forgiving and comfortable floor of the Discovery SportsZone in Boyds, Maryland, there was far less comfort or forgiveness in the Quarter-Final matches. Samson Dubina gave Han Xiao an early scare in taking the first game of their best-of-seven, 11-7. Xiao notched two straight games, 11-6, 11-5, but Dubina wasn’t through, pushing Han to a 13-11 result in the fourth game before bowing out 11-7 in the fifth. Samson, who has visibly benefited from his training sessions with the Canadians, took the U-2375 and the U-2500 titles, and left with a smile on his face and $145 for his work in this match. “See you next month at the STIGA Open in Pennsylvania!” he called out cheerfully as he departed. Win or lose, Samson Dubina carries himself with dignity and class.

Dignity was on Larry Bavly’s mind as he squared off with Stefan Feth, the rail-thin German. A former 2400 player, Bavly was determined not to be embarrassed against the former German National semi-finalist. His game plays all the angles, and frequently had Feth scurrying from corner to corner. 5,2,8,5, Feth advances as expected, but Larry declares himself well content. “He’s such a strong player”, Larry informs me. “It meant that I had to ‘go for it’ on every shot, there is no margin of safety. If I lost 11-5, it meant I made 5 and missed 11. The only thing you can do is serve short, short and heavy spin and then attack the return. That’s a lot of pressure on your service game. If you serve what you might call medium long or if the serve isn’t perfect, you aren’t going to get to make another shot.”

Vladimir Poradich was similarly anxious when drawn against David Zhuang. In fact, he seriously considered not even appearing for a match in which he felt he had ‘no chance’. But hats off to Poradich for making the effort! Our point to him was, that having won the U-2250, and with his Quarterfinal prize money, he should be delighted to be paid for the chance to play a former World #60. Whether that swayed him, or whether pride was the motivator, he did put his ‘A’ game on the table, which was good enough for scores of 3,5,7 and 8 against the Pan-Am gold medalist.

John Wetzler is a classic American street-fighter. He’s a determined and passionate opponent, and despite holding a full-time job, raising a family, having a life, capable of standing in against full-time, world-class professional table tennis players. Thomas Keinath has met him before, most recently at the Cary Cup, where he prevailed in 3 straight games. But at that same tournament, John had hung a loss on De Tran, so I was especially curious to see this match. It speaks well for John that they stood at a game apiece as the third game began. “Thomas became very cautious” one bystander commented, “because John’s game is so disruptive and his attack is not telegraphed.”

But training, experience, and age are all on Keinath’s side in this one, and he goes to the semi-final 6,-5,3,6,5.

In the Semifinals, Stefan Feth can get nothing going against David Zhuang, who controls all the crucial points. David’s short pips Penhold style has Feth muttering to himself, shaking his head, and ultimately, shaking Zhuang’s hand after a straight game setback, 8,7,7,9. David’s service game, and his pips blocking are so far from the usual topspin attacking game that Stefan cannot get the rallies he wants. There is spectacular shot-making by both players, but David has to feel good about stepping through in four straight. Stefan tells me “I love coming to your tournaments. Everything is well organized, and we know that for table tennis to succeed in America is good for the entire world. I would play more tournaments in America if my home club schedule in Germany were not so heavy. Look for me at your STIGA Teams this year, I expect that I can assemble some very strong players to join me there.”

But it’s the other semi which attracts the spectators, since Han Xiao is ‘on his own turf’, his home county. The local paper hits him for a lengthy interview, the clubmates and friends are all courtside as the hometown hero goes after Thomas Keinath. You’d think all this attention might increase the pressure on Han, but there’s no sign of it, and the home folks are totally into the match when Han takes the very first game, 11-8. Thomas is looking a little worried. Han is quicker, more consistent than I have seen him before. His backhand seems particularly effective, surprising given Keinath’s own mastery of that corner. Every point is hard-fought, every game is tight, but from here on they all fall Keinath’s direction, 9,10,9 and finally 5 in the fifth. A 4-1 result could not be much closer than this! Han is not one to display his emotions at the table, and taking his $320 check seems totally composed. I cannot help thinking that Keinath, despite the game score, has dodged a bullet.

Throughout the weekend our spectating ranks have been swelled by the 400 soccer teams taking part in a tournament at the same venue. Here, in our Championship match, they often looked dumb-founded by the intensity and athleticism of the play between David Zhuang and Thomas Keinath. Intense is hardly adequate to describe this pair. Their repeated meetings in STIGA North American Tour events have established a great rivalry. They never speak except to meet at the table, their competition is their bond. In 2005, they stand at a match apiece, David winning their meeting at West Covina, 4-0, and Thomas returning the favor at the New Jersey Open, also 4-0. David establishes the early momentum with an11-8 margin that puts Keinath into intense discussion with his cornerman, Wally Green. In the second game, David asks that a white-shirted spectator be moved…or is that to stop jumping around? In any event, the distraction is no help as Thomas evens the match, 11-9. These two are so closely matched today, that nerves of steel are needed. The game is considerably shortened as game in and game out they find themselves deadlocked at 6-6 or 7-7, effectively shortening each set to a four point game. 11-9, Keinath takes a 2-1 lead. 12-10, Keinath adds a deuce win in the fourth game and now has the staggering advantage of a 3-1 lead. What’s more, David has now used his only time-out. Everything is breaking Keinath’s way. One thing that is not breaking is David’s determination to get back in this match, to sweep away the last obstacle between himself and his third Matthew Murad Memorial title. He comes out firing in Game 5, hellbent for leather, relentless attacking with high-risk shots…which all land! Quickly up 5-1, he takes the game 11-4, in dominating fashion, stepping around his backhand more often and increasing his work level. He’d like nothing better than to break Thomas’ back with a game six victory…but now trails 7-4 with Keinath holding serve. This point strikes me as critical, as David would trail by only two and hold serve if he can win this one, but it’s not to be as the two players go three, four, five shots in the rally before Keinath smokes a forehand right through the middle. Now down 4-8, the air has escaped the arena and David is visibly deflated. 11-5 is the final game score and Keinath etches his second straight STIGA North American Tour title.

As checks are presented and trophies given a home, the spectators head for their cars, excitedly chattering about this intense competition. Now on to the STIGA Open, June 25th and 26th in Easton, PA! At each tournament, the story is deepened and the tension is built, as history is made before our eyes on the STIGA North American Tour!

2005 Matthew J. Murad Memorial Open On The 2005 Stiga North American Tour

Event Name

Champion

Finalist

Open Singles

Thomas Keinath

David Zhuang

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Men’s RR

Samson Dubina

Joseph Wang

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Boys RR

Derek Wong

Amaresh Sahu

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Boys RR

Joseph Wang

Thomas An

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Girls RR

Varvara Zemskova

 

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U13 Boys RR

Keahan Mokhtari

Janiel Li

Feingold Memorial Over 40 RR

Nazruddin Asgarali

Julian Waters

Feingold Memorial Over 50 RR

Changping Duan

Charlene Liu

Feingold Memorial Over 60 RR

Edward Watts

Raymond Chen

Under 2500 SE

Samson Dubina

James T. Duan

Under 2375 RR

Samson Dubina

Nazruddin Asgarali

Under 2250 RR

Vladimir Poradich

Larry Bavly

Under 2125 RR

Derek Wong

Joseph Wang

Under 2000 RR

Julian Waters

Martin Del Vecchio

Under 1850 RR

Brian Ponczak

Jianqing Lan

Under 1700 RR

Brian Ponczak

Edmond J. Mercier

Under 1550 RR

Scott Desiderio

Eric Lathrop

Under 1400 RR

Rohit Dewan

Vikash Sahu

Under 1250 RR

Michael Landers

James Williams

Under 1100 RR

James Williams

Albert Chieu

Under 950 RR

Varvara Zemskova

Albert Chieu

Under 800/Unrated RR

Amit Chanda

Harry Foxwell

Under 4200 Doubles SE

Naruddin Asgarali & Julian Waters

Raghu Nadmichettu & Hyo Won Kim