BALTIMORE, JUNE 16 -- To the millions of table tennis players around the globe, the sport's pinnacle is reached at the European and World Championships, and, of course, the Olympics.
For one year at least, add another tournament to the elite list -- the U.S. Open, one of three competitions during the 10-day Tournament of Champions.
And many of the world's finest players converged this week at the Baltimore Arena, where indoor soccer, minor league hockey and heavy metal concerts usually take center stage.
More than 1,200 spectators were thrilled by tonight's featured match between the world's top-ranked player, Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner, and fellow countryman Mikael Appelgren, ranked sixth. In a spectacular display of quickness and reflexes, Waldner defeated Appelgren, 21-15, 20-22, 21-15, 21-16 to win the men's singles title.
Waldner will take home $20,000. Not bad for an hour of what most Americans call Ping-Pong.
"This is a good event because there's a lot of prize money," Waldner said. "I would say it is perhaps one of the five or six best tournaments in the world."
In the all-Chinese women's final, Yaping Ding, ranked 20th in the world, defeated No. 46 Wei Lui, 19-21, 24-22, 15-21, 21-19, 21-16, in a 1-hour 12-minute thriller. Ding won $5,000.
It was a satisfying week for the nine-player Chinese contingent, which earned five of the eight semifinal berths in singles competition and two of four semifinal spots in doubles. They won the men's and women's team titles on Friday.
"This was our first one and we learned a lot," Tournament of Champions President Yvonne Kronlage of Columbia, Md., said. "Hopefully, we can hold another tournament just as big and just as grand in the future."
Although there will not be a Tournament of Champions next year, Kronlage said she hopes the Baltimore-Washington area can draw world caliber players.
The reason many of the world's best came to Baltimore was no mystery. Bucks. Big bucks. Other big-time tournaments have offered large purses to the winners of the singles events, but few can match the $85,000 that tournament officials put on the table here.
Corporate sponsorship by American Airlines and other large companies helped raise the purse. Some of the European nations came with their own sponsors -- McDonald's made its mark on the West Germans.
The field was so strong that ESPN taped a segment for a later special and Sports Illustrated assigned a photographer.
The most successful American in singles was Dan Seemiller, president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association, who advanced to the round of 32. That got him $100. On the women's side, Insook Bhushan also made the final 32.
The Tournament of Champions concludes Sunday with the finals of the international junior championships. The world's veterans championships finished play earlier this week.