Anthony Amalraj could not contain his joy when he was recently crowned National table tennis champion, ending his 16-year quest for the title
The newly-crowned National table tennis champion Anthony Amalraj walks into the Sports Department at The Hindu for an interview just as the hands of the clock read 9 p.m.
Wearing a white T-shirt and shaded jeans, the 25-year-old from Chennai interacts with the sports scribes, who are delighted to see the champion. They have a lot of questions to ask him. But the first question is — why did he jump on to the table after defeating Sharath Kamal in the final of the Senior National championships in Lucknow? He smiles without replying.
S. Raman, four-time National champion and Amalraj's coach for the last four years, answers: “He kept jumping for a while after the win. Seeing there was no more space, he jumped on to the table!” He continues on a more serious note, “I've advised him to be more restrained next time. But, you need such characters for a sport like table tennis, don't you?”
Amalraj smiles wryly when one scribe shows him a photograph of his over-the-table celebration. Yet another advises him that it was an act he shouldn't repeat.
More than his maiden National title defeating tough opponents along the way, what is uppermost on people's mind is Amalraj's celebration of his victory after defeating India's best paddler.
No doubt, Amalraj has earned notoriety for his impulsive act. At the same time, one shouldn't overlook his relentless quest for a National crown for the past 16 years. “I haven't won even one National title in any of the categories since I was a cadet. Though I was ranked higher than many paddlers, I was unable to win. People ranked lower than me had won at least one National title. This bothered me,” says Amalraj.
Bagging a National crown had been his dream ever since he joined the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy in Ajmer as a 10-year-old. Sharath had been his role model when he was coming up at the senior level. When he defeated Sharath in the inter-institutional championship in Burnpur (West Bengal) in August last year to attain the No.1 ranking in India, it was an indescribable feeling. And when he again put it across to the six-time National champion, he cried, shouted and leapt for joy.
Amalraj still has many unfinished tasks. He will travel to Hong Kong for the Pre-Olympics on April 20 followed by the Asian championship in Macau and the World championships in Bremen (Germany).
How has the transformation been possible? “To win five titles, including the Senior National title, speaks volumes for his mental and physical consistency. He has always been an exceptionally hard worker. His work ethic is second to none. All I did was channel his energies, making him focus on his strengths,” says Raman.
In the Nationals, Amalraj's hand-eye co-ordination and footwork were of a high standard. So also, the way he received a serve. His backhand drive, which turned out to be a bigger weapon while receiving a serve, took his opponents by surprise. Defeating National youth champion G. Sathiyan (quarterfinals), former National champion Subhajit Saha (semifinals) and Sharath (final) proved Amalraj had to defeat some of the best in the business to win.
Raman feels Amalraj can achieve a lot more at the International level. He believes Amalraj can crack the top 100 soon. The Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, who possesses a manic desire to excel, can touch the ceiling (referring to the heights he can reach in the game) without making use of the table!