• U.S.

Sport: Table Tennis

3 minute read

A celluloid ball, light and fragile as a frozen bubble, flicked across the green table. On one side, stood Viktor Gyözö Barna, executing from just above his shoes the incredible backhand shots that have made him four times ping-pong champion of the world. On the other side, whacking them back with a persistence that amazed sophisticates in the crowd who knew that only two years ago he was one of the late Texas Guinan’s tap-dancers, stood red-haired Jimmy McClure of Indianapolis.

When play ended, 21-14, 21-19, in Manhattan last week, Barna had maintained the supremacy which his admirers take for granted. His winning match, however, had been the hardest in his four-week tour of the U. S., which it ended. Young McClure, an 18-year-old who has been in the front rank of U. S. ping-pongists for only a year, had amply justified his right to represent the U. S. in the World Singles Championship this week in London.

To give their game the name by which it is known to everyone else is a grave indelicacy when in the company of ping-pong players. In the U.S.,ping-pong players call it table tennis. In France it is tennis de table, in Hungary, asztali tennis, in Germany, tisch tennis. In England, the only expert player who is likely to use the name ping-pong for the game invented by British Army officers in South Africa before the turn of the Century, is Frederick Perry. World’s ping-pong champion before he became its No. 1 lawn tennist, Perry now prefers not to hear about his youthful exploits with a paddle.

The little man who followed Perry to the ping-pong title presents an interesting contrast. Small, pale and agile, with a striking facial resemblance to Cinemactor Richard Dix, Viktor Gyözö (“Viki”) Barna was brought up in Budapest, played real tennis as a child, gave it up when he got a table tennis set on his 13th birthday.

By the time he was 18, he had proved himself a genius. Because the game is played more seriously in Europe than in the U. S., “Viki” Barna presently had patrons who made it possible for him to play what he prefers to call tisch tennis all year round. In the last four years, he has toured Europe, Africa, the U. S., won 524 trophies, never lost one of his 73 championships, except by default. He holds his rubber-faced racket with the tennis, not the penholder grip popular among his U. S. confreres. His best stroke is the backhand which he uses for nine out of ten returns. With his friend Sandor Glancz, Barna helped win for Hungary the Swaythling trophy, Davis Cup of ping-pongists, for which play will begin this week at the Wembley Swimming Pool in London.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com