To make it to the top 15 in the National rankings is no mean achievement for 19-year-old Sushmit Sriram
Playing G. Sathiyan, one of the country’s top table tennis players, in the junior boys’ final of the State championships in Chennai a few years ago, Sushmit Sriram took the top seed to seven games even holding a match point at one time. After winning the title, Sathiyan asked Sushmit, “You played very well. By the way, this rubber is very good. Where did you pick it up from?”
The pair of rubbers — Dr. Neubaur (Gorilla) on the backhand side (called the funny rubber) and TSP (Spectol) on the forehand — helped Sushmit upset the opponent’s rhythm and, in the process, pushed his rankings up at the National level. The 19-year-old Loyola College student is one of the few paddlers from the State in the top 15 now in the National rankings list.
“When he started using the rubber sometime in 2009-10, it was difficult to control. After diligent practice, he got used to it. The rubber seems to have caused a revolution if you associate it with Sushmit’s rise. So much so many players started using it. However, they couldn't meet with the same success,” says V. Vasu, one of the coaches at Maharishi Vidya Mandir and Ransa Clubs. Sushmit picked up table tennis at the Railways Officers Club after watching his elder brother play. His career took an upward curve when he joined the Maharishi Vidya Mandir Club in 2005-06. Under the watchful eyes of V. M. Ravi Venkatesh (chief coach) and coaches Vasu, Ramesh Babu and N.R. Bharat, Sushmit’s game began to blossom. Adept at understanding the game situations, Sushmit upset many top ranked players in the junior section in 2010, including Soumyajit Ghosh, Sourav Saha and many others, that propelled him into the limelight. “Winning my first ever National title in the youth section at the 2011 North Zone National ranking tournament in Srinagar was a major boost for me,” recalls Sushmit.
He made everyone sit up and take notice when he ran Anirban Nandi, one of the senior players in the circuit, close in the team event (men’s semifinals) of the Inter-institutional championship in Kolkata recently, and in the Bangalore National ranking tournament, he put it across the same player with a measure of comfort.
“I feel my consistency has improved and my match planning has got better,” says Sushmit. “I have improved my service and reception. I need to attack more. I am also focussing on improving my fitness.”
Vasu praises Sushmit for the manner in which he handled the rubber, which many players found difficult. “We actually wanted the women to use it. But they found it difficult. Initially, even Sushmit couldn’t control the ball, and had to work to master it,” says the 49-year-old Indian Bank employee.
Sushmit, sponsored by Airport Authority of India and Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, is keen to break into the top eight in India in the men’s section as early as possible. Academics are also on his mind. But Sushmit doesn’t want to excel in one at the cost of the other. “I want to pursue an MBA. I’ll take a call on this after I finish my final year,” he says.