Dubbed the Needle because of his build—or lack of one—Reisman and his kill shot were quite literally the big hit of the tournament. Once clocked at 115 mph, the forehand kill was part of a new style of high-speed attack—slamming the ball an instant after it struck the table—which Reisman developed at Lawrence's. He called the new offense fast-hit; the postwar London press called his slam the Atomic Blast.
Though he lost to Britain's Richard Bergmann, the five-time world champ, in a spectacular final before a crowd of 10,000, the acclaim convinced Reisman that at 17 there were worlds far beyond the bounds of Lawrence's to conquer. As a finishing school, however, Lawrence's had international stature. For the 1949 world championships in Stockholm, the U.S. team was not only wholly composed of Friday night all-stars—Reisman, Dick Miles and Doug Cartland—but was also ranked No. 2 in the world.
In between hawking ball-point pens and stocking up on Orrefors crystal to smuggle back into the U.S., Reisman made it all the way to the semifinals of the Stockholm world championships, a feat equaled by only one other American, Lou Pagliaro, a fellow Lawrence's graduate. A week later Reisman went to London's Wembley Stadium and, hitting an occasional ball between his legs, became the only American ever to win the British Open.
Reisman's showmanship served him well when he and U.S. teammate Doug Cartland spent the next three years touring with the Globetrotters. At one-nighters in Alabama, where the Trotters were forced to ride in the back of a bus, and before 75,000 people in West Berlin's Olympia Stadium, the Reisman-Cartland act was a smash, for never before had anyone seen two men play with five balls at once or, using pots and pans as paddles, bang out the melody of Mary Had a Little Lamb.
But that was strictly amateur-hour fare compared to the show-stopper performed by a Japanese trickster at the 1952 world championships in Bombay. He was Hiroji Satoh, a small, unassuming, pigeon-toed man. First the great Bergmann and then Reisman lost to Satoh by humiliating scores, completely befuddled by a new paddle covered with a one-inch slab of foam rubber. Slams rebounded off Satoh's sponge racket as if fired from a slingshot, whiffleballing every which way with all kinds of bewildering spins. More confounding still, the novel racket was a weapon with a built-in silencer; it made no sound whatsoever.
"Like Willie Mays taking off at the crack of the bat," Reisman explains, "we were all conditioned to react to the sound of the racket hitting the ball. But with Satoh that was impossible. Suddenly, we were all deaf-mutes in a game that required dialogue."
Satoh won the 1952 world championship and Reisman the world consolation round. But the game was forever changed and there was no making up for that. Or was there? It took some maneuvering but during the next few months Reisman and Cartland pursued an elaborate scheme of revenge.
They were the original odd couple. Reisman, just 22, was already into his $100-silk-shirt mode. Cartland, 15 years older and a drawling North Carolinian, was of a more frugal bent. "Doug lived on scrambled eggs and water," says Reisman. "He was always arguing with waiters, bellhops and taxi drivers about money, always saving his laundry until we got to Kuala Lumpur or somewhere because the prices were cheaper there. Once, when I forgot to bring my sneakers to a match, Doug gave me an extra pair of his—for a 50� rental fee."
By hook and a little crook the dauntless duo worked their way from Bombay through the Far East playing exhibitions, hustling when they could and going hungry when they couldn't. Eventually, they had the wherewithal to fly to Tokyo and publicly challenge Satoh and Nobi Hayashi, a world doubles champion, to a U.S.- Japan showdown. Promoted by a Japanese manufacturer who paid the Americans to endorse a line of Reisman-Cartland balls, the match was held on the stage of a movie theater in Osaka. There were 50,000 requests for tickets but only 5,000 fans were able to squeeze in. The matches, which were broadcast over a national radio hookup, were decided by the final encounter in singles between Reisman and Satoh.
Pushing the ball back to minimize the ricochet effect of Satoh's sponge, Reisman picked his slam shots judiciously and split the first two games. The third game seesawed dramatically until Satoh, trailing 17-15, sent Reisman racing back 20 feet to return one, two, three banzai slams in a row. But when Satoh missed on his fourth put-away attempt, his concentration snapped and Reisman ran out the game to win 21-15.