Maria Rony was a reluctant paddler when her father Rony Mathew first took her to the table tennis coaching camp at the Alappuzha YMCA.
“We had to coax and cajole her and even bribe her with chocolates and sweets to hit the ball,” remembers Bobby Joseph, the YMCA coach.
However, seven years later, Maria became the second player from Kerala after Ambika Radhika to represent India in an international table tennis event.
The ninth standard student of SDV English Medium School represented India in the ITTF French Open in April and again at the Spanish Open in May.
Maria, who is ranked No. 81 in the world and third in India, reached the pre-quarterfinals in cadet singles (under-15) in both the tournaments.
She also played in the team events where India did well to enter the quarterfinals in both these tournaments.
Maria is now in Indore attending the National coaching camp and will fly to Milwaukee to take part in the U.S. Open from June 30 to July 4.
Hailing from a family of basketball players — her father and uncle international George Mathew were accomplished players and her brother followed their footsteps to become a good player himself — Maria has carved a niche for herself in the State-ranking tournaments.
She swept the titles from sub-junior to youth categories and in some tournaments won the senior title as well.
Grabbing the attention
She made an impact at the National level to grab the attention of the selectors.
“There is no doubt she is the finest talent to emerge from the State after Radhika. She is an attacking player and has all the strokes.
“With experience she will improve her game and the foreign exposure will do a world of good to her confidence,” says N. Ganesan, the ITTF match-referee who has watched Maria closely from her formative years.
Need to improve
Bobby Joseph, who has been Maria's coach all these years, feels his ward needs to improve her game more tactically.
“There is not much of a challenge for her here in Kerala. But against stronger players she has to adapt and change her style according to situation. She has improved tactically but there is still a long way to go,” he said.
Maria's is one of the success stories of the YMCA TT academy which has produced a few State champions and made Alappuzha a force to reckon with.