Exhibitions in Tournaments

September 5, 2012

Los Angeles Open and Exhibitions

Here are the results, and here's a video of the final (14:53) between Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany (a bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympics in Men's Singles and Teams) and Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

If you watch the match, it becomes clear early on they are basically playing an exhibition. There's been much discussion of this on online forums, and few experienced players disagree with this verdict. (Many lesser-experienced players couldn't tell.) Many have condemned it, and I have to grudgingly agree that it was completely out of line for them to play this way in the final of a major tournament, and right from the start. I have no idea why they did this.

USATT has rules that cover this, under 3.5.3 Good Presentation (and ITTF has nearly identical rules): Players, coaches and officials shall uphold the object of good presentation of the sport; in particular players have to do their utmost to win a match and shall not withdraw except for reasons of illness or injury. Any player who deliberately fails to comply with these principles may be disciplined by total or partial loss of prize money in prize events and/or by suspension from USATT events.

In this particular match, it is obvious the two did not "do their utmost to win [the] match." Are there cases where it is okay to play exhibition in a tournament match? Some would say never, citing both the USATT rules and the general idea that you should always fight to the end. However, many European players have a long history of playing exhibition at the end of a lopsided match, usually instigated by the player losing badly, and usually their opponents (often Chinese) go along with it, since in essence the one losing has given up on the match. (So technically speaking, both sides are playing exhibition, in violation of the rules.) I remember a women's singles final match at the USA Nationals between Gao Jun and Jasna Reed (now Jasna Rather), both known for their backhands, where (if I remember correctly) Gao had already won the first two games in the best of three to 21, and in game three they essentially had a backhand-to-backhand contest (won by Gao in deuce). I don't think anyone complained; that last game was riveting.

I'm guilty as well. About twenty years ago I played David Zhuang in the quarterfinals of the New Jersey Open in a best of five to 21. He won the first two and was well up in the third when I switched to exhibition. We put on a good one (lots of lobbing and counter-smashing, and I jumped the barriers several times while lobbing), but the umpire was very upset at us, even jumping out of his chair and trying to grab the ball while it was in play near the end when I blew a ball back, and again a few points later when David kicked one back. I also once played an impromptu exhibition match with Eric Boggan in front of an audience after I was well down, and once took on Scott Boggan in a pure exhibition-style counterlooping duel. (Note that between them, David, Eric, and Scott have won nine Men's Singles titles at the USA Nationals.) I've played plenty more exhibition points in matches, almost always at the end of lopsided matches.

So I'm on the fence about this one. I think there are circumstances where it's okay for players to play exhibition . . . except there are those pesky USATT rules. . . .

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