Brian Masters began playing table tennis at age 10 and two years later he was accepting his first National’s trophy at Caesars Palace from boxing-great Joe Louis. There followed five U.S. Open or Closed Junior Doubles Championships. Some say, being a lefty, Brian was always a better doubles than a singles player—though, were it not for young superstar Eric Boggan whom Brian lost two finals to, he might well have been a National Junior Singles Champion too.
During these developing years, Brian got much support from his father Dennis who sooner or later would be a U.S. Team Manager, E.C. member, and unofficial (and unpaid) Executive Secretary of the Association. I remember when Brian was 13, he and Dennis left their family home in Maryland to come to California for Bobby Gusikoff’s Hollywood U.S. Open. The two of them, father and son, came all that way, and would return home, by bus! I, often self-indulgent, was impressed, very impressed, by such a sacrifice.
By 1982—Brian was then 18 (and one of the best high school tennis players in Maryland)—he began making his potential Hall of Fame presence felt in the U.S. Closed World Team Tryouts. While Eric had been injured and put on the Team, Brian had the expected losses—to Danny Seemiller (#1 finisher), Scott Boggan (#2), and Attila Malek (#3), these three following Eric as the most recent U.S. Champions. Brian beat the #4 finisher Ricky Seemiller, but, in finishing 5th, he had a loss to #6th finisher Quang Bui that kept him off the Team. Bummer.
But 1983 and 1984 were good to him. After all, as commentator Larry Hodges said of Brian, “Using the Seemiller grip, he has a great blocking game, a great change of pace with his anti-spin surface on one side, good serves, and a consistent forehand loop.” In the ’83 Tryouts he, along with Danny (#1), Eric (#2), Ricky (#3), and Scott (#4) made the U.S. Team. And in 1984, by beating Scott, Attila, and Quang, he was part of the U.S. Team to the 1985 Gothenburg, Sweden World’s. Ten years later, in 1993 after much had happened in his life and a whole new generation of champions had evolved, he was still a strong contender for the five-man U.S. World Team, finishing #6 with wins over Danny, Attila, and the formidable Khoa Nguyen, Todd Sweeris, and Eric Owens.
With the competition, headed by internationalists Danny and Eric, continuing to be so strong as to prohibit Brian from getting no further than the U.S. Closed Men’s Singles semi’s, he compiled a record that would make him among the very best of the second echelon of players. In 1982 he was the U-2300 Champion (beating Khoa and U.S. multi-time U.S. Women’s Champion Insook Bhushan); in ’83, ’84, and ’85 the U-2500 finalist (beating, among others, Ricky and Quang); and in ’87 the U-2400 Champion (beating Attila and Insook). Also, in 1985, he was the U.S. Men’s Closed Amateur Champion.
Nor was his success confined to Singles. Despite his undisguised individuality—a very expressive player, his “most admired athlete” was John McEnroe—his success in Doubles at both the U.S. Closed and the prestigious National Sports Festival (later Olympic Festival) over a long stretch of years is remarkable: In ’83, along with reaching the Singles final, he was both the Festival’s Men’s and Mixed Doubles Champion. Eleven years later, he earned another Men’s Doubles title. In the U.S. Closed, Brian won the ’85 and ‘87 Men’s Doubles, and the ’87 Mixed. In addition, in just these two events, in Doubles, Brian was 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 times a runner-up. As late as 1999, showing his versatility, he was the National Hard Bat Doubles Champion. Few Hall of Famers in our History can lay claim to such an extensive record.
But Brian’s accomplishments weren’t confined to play in the U.S. In 1980, at the Peru Invitational he was on the winning Men’s Team. And again in ’82, at the International Matches in Santa Clara, Cuba (where he wrote a Topics article describing the play…and the Cuban Men’s Coach crying over his Team’s loss). Only the Cuban #1, penhold-attacker Raul Betancourt, winner of the tournament, could beat him. In ‘83, back in Cuba for an Invitational, Brian was again on the winning Men’s Team, and this time took the Singles as well.
Brian’s greatest triumph, though, was not just finishing second in the 1983 U.S. Pan-Am Trials, but in actually WINNING THE PAN AM GAMES in Caracas against a strong field that deprived the U.S. of a Men’s Team medal. Much later, in a 1995 interview, Brian said he’d tricked his opponents, taking great advantage of his two-sided racket (one side anti), since the two-color rule wasn’t yet in effect. However, the subterfuge strategy inherent in this new technological age of t.t. and practiced by player after player—could that have been a novelty to these experienced nationalists? “I would loop with either side of my racket, inverted or anti-spin, very slow—so the ball coming to them was difficult to read, was either spinny or had no spin at all.” So at least in part it was Brian’s unique ability to get the most out of his deceptive game that won the day for him and country. That year Brian was named “U.S. Men’s Amateur of the Year.”
In 1984, Brian went to Sweden, played half a season. In 1987, he moved there—coached and played professionally in the Swedish League for years. Perhaps his best lifetime wins were against the Swedes Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, and Thomas von Scheele—all World Singles or Doubles Champions.