TABLE TENNIS With three gold medals in his kitty already, 24-year-old Amalraj's making steady progress
“H e has threatened to upset the odds in the past two years on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Pro Tour, but has not quite been able to cross the line first against higher ranked opposition,” wrote Ian Marshall, Publications Editor, ITTF, last February. Amalraj has come some way since that observation, and has been making steady, if not spectacular, progress over the last 12 months. Ranked 284 in the world, Amalraj, ever a keen student of the game, is leaving for Slovakia to play the league. “It will be a different kind of experience for me,” observes the excited 24-year-old.
“Pro Tour is different from league. In league, every weekend I can play with different International players ranked inside top 100, which will give me a lot of exposure, and improve my game.”
Moreover, the three gold medals — men's team, men's doubles and mixed doubles — he clinched at the South Asian Games in Dhaka recently has made Amalraj happy, though he knows the quality of opposition was pretty ordinary.
“The quality was not great, as competition was basically between Indians, but winning medals — three at that, in my first South Asian Games is very very special,” he says.
Back in Chennai after shuttling between Patiala and Pune for the Commonwealth Games camp, Amalraj says he hardly gets any free time, training day in and day out with Indian players.
He will play in the Slovakian league this month, and return to the camp. “It's been pretty tough at the camp,” says Amalraj, “but we need to work hard to prove our worth in the Games.”
Commonwealth Games will be a major test not only for the organisers, but also for the players undergoing intensive training under the eagle eyes of Bhavani Mukherjee and foreign coach Constantino. Amalraj is one of the 12 shortlisted for the camp, and he is hopeful he would be in the final five in the men's category. “I should be there,” says the officer with ONGC.
Being part of the Indian team with a silver in the Commonwealth championship in Glasgow and defeating a higher-ranked player (Singapore's Cai Xiao Li) were highlights of his career last year. “Glasgow was special, but losing to Singapore in the final was hard. Beating Cai in the pre-quarterfinals at Glasgow helped me move up in the ITTF rankings,” says the India No. 5.
The semi-finals jinx
For all his improvements in the world rankings, what bothers Amalraj is that he has not been able to get past the semi-finals in the National championships. On four occasions, he lost in the last four clashes, losing to players he had defeated earlier.
“In the Jaipur Nationals in 2006, I lost to top-ranked player Sharath Kamal, which I think is a big achievement as I was coming up then, and the next year, I lost to Anal Kashyap in the pre-quarterfinals in Ajmer. In Siliguri Nationals in 2008, I bowed out to Sourav Chakraborty in the semi-finals, and in the last two years, I lost to Pathik Metha and Sourav respectively in the semi-finals.”
Amalraj feels the competition among the top five players in India is intense, and on any given day, it's the player's form on that day that decides the winner. Under the guidance of former National champion S. Raman in the last couple of years, Amalraj says his vision of the game and his record against left-handed players — Raman is a leftie himself — has improved by leaps and bounds. “I want to perform both at the National and International level,” he states. Given his work ethic, drive and resilience, Amalraj is sure to realise some of his dreams.K. KEERTHIVASAN