Although he is technically preparing for the world tournament, his immediate challenge is the U.S. Open in Detroit next week. "A player from any country can compete, so even if I lose, it won't affect my ranking," he says. "But I'm not afraid. Dal Joon Lee has been selling equipment rather than training; he's falling apart. And he is too old; he's already 26. Alex Tarn, who was 14th in the world before he escaped from China, is the only guy with a chance. My problem is that everybody's going to be psyched up against me. I'm like UCLA in basketball. Everybody tries a little harder to put the No. 1 down."
He speaks with more respect, however, and with the characteristic modesty of the affable underdog when he considers his chances of winning the championship of the world. "It's hard to tell how far we're going to go," he says of the team. "We're not so good as a whole. Our ranking, 28th in the world, is nothing considering all the dinky countries competing."
In the world event the teams play in divisions of 12 based on the results from 1971 (world competition is held every other year). The U.S. is in the C Division, and may well win it.
"My own chances," says Seemiller of the individual world title, "depend on how well I do in the first couple of rounds. There are no divisions in individual competition. They match the best players against the worst, so near the end only the greats remain. This means there is a chance I might meet someone powerful from China, Yugoslavia or Sweden at the beginning. I could face Bengtsson or Kuang in the first round."
He says those names with a lilt to his voice and with the reverence of a clergyman extolling the virtues of a favorite saint. To Seemiller, the prospect of standing across the table from Li Chingkuang of China, who is 6' and weighs over 200 pounds, is comparable to having to run around an end protected by Mean Joe Greene. But he reserves his most lavish praise for world champion Stellan Bengtsson of Sweden. "Bengtsson is 5'5" and 135 pounds of lightning," says Seemiller. "He's got fantastic concentration. He is always intense, completely obsessed, no matter if he's tied at 19-19 or winning 19-1. That's the secret to good table tennis and the key for me. If I can keep calm and remember to take time to talk to myself and plan after each point, then I can win it. As it stands now, I'm not scared of anybody and nobody could beat me easily. If I can keep my concentration I have a chance to beat them all—including Bengtsson."
"About 85% of the competitors in the championship rely on top spin," says Sweeris, "and Danny's style is perfect against that. He stands right at the table and punches the ball back faster than anybody, and he can use the anti-top-spin side of his paddle whenever he likes. I think he is going to surprise a lot of people and come pretty close to taking it all."
Seemiller is affected by the sudden attention and respect he is receiving, and he assumes, perhaps with more authority than deserved, the assuredness of an established star. Yet if table tennis is to become a spectator sport of national popularity, an objective that Tim Boggan, president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association, and other officials are concentrating on, then Danny Seemiller could be the key.
It seems, at least in this country, that a star must be born before a sport is to flourish. Bobby Fischer and Gillie Jean King are prime examples. Seemiller is newsworthy enough, as to looks, as to skill and certainly as to manner, to attract attention to table tennis. "I won't make predictions for 1973," he says, "but by 1975 or at the latest '77, I'll be the world champ."