Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SPORTS NOTES. If you get a chance to see the lightweight-championship unification fight between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales, don't pass it up.

I won't spoil the result (Google the names if you like), but I will say that it made the Thrilla in Manilla look like the Snoozefest in Budapest. It was the first fight I've ever seen that made scenes from the "Rocky" movies seem plausible.

AND, MOVING FROM BOXING TO TABLE TENNIS, if you get a chance to see Matthew Syed wield the sponged paddle, don't pass that up either.

Modern table tennis on TV is typically pretty boring, after maybe five minutes of initial novelty. Most players pound topspin loop shots back and forth ad nauseam. Matthew Syed, on the other hand, looks like a fictional player my brothers or I would have invented on our garage table circa 1980. Syed, a cueball-bald Oxford-educated Englishman, stands 20 feet behind the table and chops the ball back, over and over again, no matter what his opponent throws at him. There's the occasional topspin and even a countersmash or two, but mainly it's the underspin -- which I didn't even realize was a viable tactic in table tennis. I thought the unorthodoxy of Fabrice Santoro and the showmanship of Mikael Pernfors on the tennis court were things to behold, but Syed is beyond belief. At least once a match, from what I've seen, he anticipates an opponent's smash and climbs over the barrier behind (or even beside) the court to make a series of successful retrievals. All this would be remarkable enough if he were merely a world-class player, but he's a top world-class player.

ESPN2 is scheduled to show a Syed match June 19 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Set your TiVo.

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