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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Sharath Kamal.

Every sport has this one player for whom the entire nation cheers. Whenever, wherever he/she is competing, the entire nation wants him/her to win. Sachin tendulkar. Saina Nehwal. Vishvanathan Anand. Abhinav Bindra. Sania Mirza. For us Table tennis lovers, Sharath Kamal is that name. And today is no usual day. The legend turns 33 today. What surprises me is the fact that he has played the best table tennis of his life at the age of 32, his zeal and passion for the game has only grown over the years and he’s the one who has changed the face of Indian TT.  How I wish he keeps playing and winning forever!

My first interaction with him was in 2004 at Mumbai airport when we were waiting for our respective delayed flights to take off. Little did I know that I will experience one of the best conversations of my life ever. As I sat aloof at a corner, I saw this man- the man who had then won the commonwealth championship, whom I had secretly admired, approaching towards me! I stared at him in disbelief when he said “Hi Neha, glad to see you here, long wait eh?” Surprised that he knew my name, I thanked god for the delay! We spoke about table tennis, me, him and life. The conversation ended an hour later only when I had my final boarding call.
Sharath after winning the 2004 Commonwealth Championship


 3 years back, there was another instance which almost saved my playing career. There came a time when I felt disillusioned, I wanted to quit playing, and got no answers from anywhere. Hesitant, I dialed his number hoping for a short inspirational chat. To my surprise he said ‘’Neha I am at Delhi airport and my flight is in 2 hours, I am with family, but that’s ok, can u make it here?” I rushed to the airport in my pyjamas. He told me to hang in there, just one more tournament and I will be good to go. He reaffirmed my faith in hard work with his own example. I had to believe his word, I am glad I did. I cannot thank him enough for that time. I am glad I made that call.


My Favourite Picture 


Always there to support his juniors.


 I caught up with a few die hard fans of this legend, fans who have a special connection with this grounded star, fans who probably even Sharath himself isn’t aware of!

N.Vidya is a promising paddler from Chennai who trains at the AKG Academy managed by the Rao brothers and Rajath Kamal ( Sharath's brother). During my year and a half long stint at AKG I realized how lucky these players are to be playing in the same club where Sharath trains when in India. Although he is hardly seen at the club, the numerous stories of struggle and success narrated by Rao brothers are the daily inspirational does one needs. Here’s what Vidya has to say about Sharath:
“I am so lucky to have joined his academy, not everyone gets to see the best Indian paddler in their academy. Sharath anna is an epitome of hard work and sincerity. He is not only a successful sports person but also a great human being. J It is his humility that defines him more than anything else. Just talking about him to someone gives me so much pride. He is an example of how people can make it big despite average performances at the junior level. Sir tell us many stories of how he had battled adversities ‘N’ number of times to win a match” When asked what is the craziest thing she has ever done for Sharath Kamal, Vidya promptly recalled, “ I was watching his CWG 2006 finals on TV and praying at every point for him to win. I got so involved in the match that it was only after the match I realized that I had scratched myself in thrill and I was bleeding. My mom was shocked. I was so happy after his win. ” Vidya adds rather dejected, “However, my dream to play mixed doubles with him still remains a dream”

I am glad that I got this opportunity. I paired up with him in 2013 Commonwealth Championship and Asian Championships. We lost in the initial stages but it was a dream come true.

Kamal's ''Fans''


Watch this beautiful video of this young paddler from Bengal, Anirban Ghosh, who recalls the match he played against Sharath Kamal in 2012. Anirban was only 13 years old that time and was clearly in awe of the legend. 

Anirban's dream match with Sharath

Mr.Rajeev Sharma, the Director of Events and CTO of  Killerspin, is a huge admirer of Sharath Kamal. He was present at the 2010 US Open and CWG Delhi 2010, cheering his heart out for the Indian team, especially Sharath (ofcourse). Delighted to talk to me about Kamal, he readily replied, "In one of the initial rounds at a tournament in US, Sharath was given a table with concrete flooring, even though he was the top seed. Concerned, I went to him and asked- 'why don't you ask the tournament organizers to change the table for you?' To my surprise Sharath replied- 'I don't like to complain, I can play in any condition, I am here to perform and not question anyone.' Sharath has won my heart on several occasions but this made him win all my respect."

Rajeev and Sharath in US
Yukti Roshni is one girl who has been admiring Sharath secretly since she was 8. She hails from Chennai and is now preparing to become a doctor. Yukti proudly claims, “ I feel Sharath anna is a PHD in table tennis. (P- Passion, H-Hunger, D-Discipline). This is his success mantra. Sharath anna’s presence reminds me of the famous quote- ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. He is the most humble person I have ever met. I have great respect for him.” A few years back on this day Yukti made sure she wishes him. She says the craziest thing she has done was a few years back “ I wanted to wish him on his birthday but his line was busy since a long time. I kept trying his number all day but somehow couldnt get through. Although I texted him but I wanted to talk. I kept trying, but still the line was busy. Later in the day he called me back and said, ‘Yukti, this is too much. Thank you; I really appreciate your effort’. We had a hearty laugh after that. I spent my whole day trying for that one call, but it was worth it!”
Hope she didn’t have problems trying his number today!

With Krishnan Ananth in Germany. He travels all over the world to watch Sharath play!

Sharath's Mother, Wife and Daughter. Undoubtedly his biggest fans :-)
I hope and wish that 33 is his lucky number. He must recover fast from the injury he suffered earlier this year at the World Championships. We miss him in action. Like for Serena Williams and Roger Federer this Wimbeldon, I wish that 33 proves to be lucky for Kamal too. He aims to break into top 25 soon. His fans wish the same. 

Happy Birthday Sharath Kamal!



Saturday, May 9, 2015

TIMES OF INDIA SPORTS AWARDS


Hyatt Regency glittered with glory on 7th may 2015. And why not, the best of India’s sporting heroes were present, all under one roof-- a rare occasion. It was an evening to celebrate Indian sports and the sportspersons, to acknowledge their achievements, to make them feel worthy of who they are and to further inspire them and all other Indian athletes to be the best in the world.

I cannot thank the Times group enough for the Bollywood-ish award function which was so glamorous.  It was a pleasure to see the players styled up, looking fantabulous, beautiful than any of the top actors.
Gorgeous Dipika Pallikal- TOISA Squash Player of the Year



With Gaurav Kapoor as the host of the evening, awards were presented in various categories of sports including Badminton, Athletics, Boxing, Shooting, Golf, Chess, Squash, Billiards, Wrestling, Football and Table Tennis to name a few.

Each sport had two categories- People’s Choice and Jury’s Choice. In Table Tennis, the Jury’s Choice award- TOISA Table Tennis Player of the Year was awarded to my favourite Sharath Kamal and People’s Choice went to the only woman nominee Ankita Das. Everything was perfect about the evening; just that Sharath Kamal was missed-he’s currently in Germany nursing a leg injury.

Sharath Kamal- TOISA Table Tennis Player of the Year

Badminton queen Saina Nehwal was awarded the TOISA Youth Icon of the Year trophy by the former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly akka dada.
Sourav Ganguly waiting for Saina Nehwal to collect her award


Magnificent Mary won the Boxer of the year Award and Panjak Advani won the Sportsperson of the Year- Popular Choice Award which along with the trophy included a surprise gift- Mahindra Scorpio Car!
Pankaj Advani with the surprise!



TOISA Trophy- studded with Swarovski 

 Apart from India’s current top athletes, the highlight of the evening were the Sporting Legends - Milka Singh, Zafar Iqbal, Saurav Ganguly and Col Rajyawardhan Rathod to name a few. 
But the star of the evening was the legendary Carl Lewis- the Sportsperson of the Century making his presence in the most inspiring way ever. He had a special message for India-“ Stop thinking that you are not going to be as good as others. You are a billion people. You want me to believe that you cannot find one fast guy, one fast girl? Athletics is perfection and there is a model of perfection. So, shoot for the model. India is great in cricket because you have a history and you believe you are the best in cricket. Its about confidence. There are too many people to not have talent. It;s just that they talk themselves down.”
Carl Lewis

Milkha Singh expressed his desire to see India winning a medal at the Olympics, which he missed by a narrow margin.  The passion in his voice speaks volumes about his commitment and dedication to sport. He was awarded the Life Time Achievement Award by the legend Carl Lewis.



He was udoubtedly the man in demand, also being requested by The Miss.India 2014, Afreen Vas, for a quick selfie :-)


The Flying Sikh and Miss.India!
Some women achievers, the unsung heroes of Indian sport. We salute you all!!!

Rani Rampal "TOISA HOCKEY PLAYER OF THE YEAR"

Malaika Goel "TOISA EMERGING PLAYER OF THE YEAR"

Harmanpreet Kaur "TOISA CRICKETER OF THE YEAR"


Bala Devi "TOISA FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR"
An evening with so many achievers around, you only feel inspired further to serve the nation and give in your best in whatever you do.

The TOISA winners


Myself with Sindhu & Amalraj- such grounded players



Panel discussion on the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics 


Such awards are necessary, especially in a country like India, where apart from a few, sport is not considered a valuable career option. Such a motivation only supports your decision to do sport and applauds your dedication, hard work  & commitment. When the society acknowledges your efforts it feels great, because at the end of the day you are all alone in your quest for gold, because the country
is obsessed with engineers and doctors.

Thank you TOISA.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

INDIAN MEN EMERGE INTO A NEW POOL: WORLD RANKINGS MAY,2015

SHARATH KAMAL IN TOP FORM: WORLD NO.32!
World Rankings released by the ITTF after the just concluded Qoros World Table Tennis Championship held at Suzhou, China has bought smiles to Indians all over the world. Sharath Kamal defeated Simon Gauzy of France to enter round of 32 but had to unfortunately withdraw from the tournament because of an injury in the adductor muscle in the right leg.The moment Sharath Kamal felt the excruciating pain, my heart almost skipped a beat. He was leading 3-0 and 6-5 against Simon Gauzy of France and was just 5 points away to the last 32 in the world championship when the unfortunate event happened. I felt this was unfair- unfair to him as well as to Indian Table Tennis. This was his first major injury which came at a point when he was playing the best table tennis of life.
SHARATH KAMAL RECEIVING TREATMENT DURING THE MEDICAL TIMEOUT
Picture courtsey-ITTF

 But what followed next reinforced my belief that he is the greatest Indian TT player and a living legend. If you haven’t watched the match yet, you are missing something totally unbelievable and spectacular. After the medical timeout at 3-0, 6-5, he lost the 4th set, but the way he pulled off the 5th set and thus the entire match is the testimony of the level of perseverance and mind games he can play. Despite being injured, he tackled the balls so beautifully by staying close to the table and focusing more on a strong defence so quick and aggressive which left his opponent bewildered from the start till the end. Sharath finished the last point in style- hitting a forehand counter spin cross court at a speed which even the best of the Chinese would rarely produce. Before the injury Sharath kept Gauzy uncomfortable with his receives and attack, and after the injury, he kept Gauzy uncomfortable with his strong defence. Sharath dismissed Simon Gauzy in an unbelievable 4-1 victory!  Sharath proved that he is a complete player. Simon Gauzy will never forget this match his entire life. Neither will Sharath. Nor will any of us Indians.
 World rankings just released yesterday for May 2015, has given Sharath’s career a major boost. Yes, 
ACHANTA SHARATH KAMAL- WORLD NO.32!

This is his career best ranking.  I sincerely wish him a speedy recovery from the injury and hope he gets back stronger than ever before.

SOUMYAJIT GHOSH BREAKS INTO TOP 100.
This is probably one of the best days in Ghosh’s table tennis career. He achieved his long fetched dream of breaking into top 100 in the world. He currently stands as World no.95!

His spectacular performance at Suzhou where he entered round of 64 beating the mighty Aruna Quadri from Nigeria earned him this spot. Aruna Quadri was awarded the ITTF Star Player of the Year award  at the Dubai 2014 ITTF Star Awards. Ghosh pulled off a comfortable 4-1 victory against Quadri who gave India a nightmare at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August 2014.  With this, Ghosh has even greater responsibility towards himself. He has to work harder to improve from here as it gets tougher to maintain and then go up the ladder.

Ghosh in action at the World TT Championship 2015
Picture courtsey-ITTF


Good news has not yet ended.  G.Sathiyan, who has been in an incredible form since he finished his engineering last year, has climbed up 26 ranks and is now at 162. In Suzhou, he qualified for the main draw and in the first round beat Par Gerell from Sweden in a thrilling 4-1 victory to enter the round of 64. He played his heart out but lost to the current men’s singles finalist Fang Bo 1-4 in the round of 64.  
 Harmeet Desai is at 167 and the flamboyant Sanil Shetty is at no 242.

I am feeling quiet positive about minimum two men qualifying for the next year’s summer Olympics to be held at Rio. If Sharath can get a direct entry based on his world rank and a minimum of one more player should qualify from the South Asian quota, first time ever a minimum of 2 men from India will stand a chance to qualify for the same Olympics.

MANIKA LEADS THE CHARTS
Coming back after a back injury which she suffered during the National Games earlier this year, Manika Batra stands as world no 142. Topping the rankings from India since the last one year now, Manika shares dual responsibility- to improve further without any more injuries and to break into the top 100. She has a bright future and a long way to go, but she needs to pull up her socks and try to be more consistent at the international arena.
Huge task ahead of Manika
Picture courtsey-ITTF


National Champion Mouma Das has jumped up 7 spots and is now at 164. Poulomi Ghatak is at 182, Ankita Das at 186 and K.Shamini who was out of international competition for the past 7 months emerged at 202.  Madhurika Pathkar also climbed up from 226 to 213.

None of the women in the recent times has entered top 100 in the world and the question is why so. Men have done it but women lag far behind as far as the rankings are concerned. As many as 6 men are playing in different leagues in Europe which has elevated their level.  The concern for women needs to be addressed by the federation and the players themselves. Maybe it’s time we get out of our comfort zones, adopt a different strategy, and change the way we approach the game.

Men have changed the face of Indian Table Tennis, and now, women need to follow suit.


Monday, April 6, 2015

13 Lines Indian Table Tennis players are used to hearing



       1. "Oh so you play TT, I m sure you don't need to do a lot of physical fitness to play this sport!"

Really? Try playing against a Chinese. And somebody take him to do the footwork exercises.!




Ma Long playing forehand from backhand extreme!


     2. "What do you do?"
    "I am a table tennis player"
  "Ya ya all that is fine, but what do you really do???!!!!"


   3.   “Had you played some other sport, you would have probably made some more money.”
Sorry uncles, but what if i was born to play table tennis? What if I would not be good enough in another sport? I love TT and I am glad what it gives me back. The scenario is changing and the future looks bright!


   4.  “Oh, well its hardly shown on TV, it’s not even famous”

Sad for India, that's all I can say that. In Europe and Asian countries including China, Japan and Korea people come in huge numbers to watch, tickets sold out many times.
 
A packed TT Stadium in China  


      5.   “But you really don’t need a lot of power!”
       
Really? Try playing against a defencer?

Hitting that will surely require power!


   6.   "What, you meant tennis right?"


   


     7.   "Oh isn’t that a hobby sport?"

   Sorry dude, we do serious sport here, and many of us have well respected jobs given only because it is considered professional and a few of our stars also play in leagues abroad and are paid. Oh, not to forget the medals we have won for the country!
GOLD MEDAL at the Delhi CWG


   8.  "Who's your idol?" "Sharath Kamal." "Sorry Who???"


  
        9.  "The game isn’t expensive I m sure, my tennis/badminton/cricket/squash/etc etc bat/racket is           ** grands!"
        
Really? A tenergy 64 rubber costs 4 grand and gets worn off after 1 tournament!

Haanji!


   10.  "You are quiet tall! Isn’t TT best for the short heighted?"

 Sharath Kamal is 6, Dimitrij Ovcharov is 6.1, Vladimir Samsonov is 6.2!

HAHAHA Yeah..!

   11. " Oh we also play TT at home; many times we use the dining table. Its quiet an easy game I m sure."
TOTALLY!!!


     12.  " Oh big deal! Looks quiet easy, you just have to send the ball on the other side right!"

Oh, quiet easy na guys? Especially the backspin which Shamini gives you. Or the flat kills Mouma hits, or maybe Amalraj's speed, yeah, quiet an easy job to send the ball to the other court, isnt it?



13. "Oh ya, we too play after office, its soooo refreshing and we don't even feel tired."

Somebody get him to a training session!!!

OR RATHER PLAY LIKE THIS!



To all those who have said this or something similar to this-
We now have a day dedicated to our sport and us! Do you have something like that for your profession??? 

                                    

HAPPY WORLD TABLE TENNIS DAY!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

SHARATH KAMAL ROARS BACK AGAIN!

The Indian Table Tennis fraternity was eagerly waiting for the 28th Asia Cup to start. Some were excited to watch Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and Jun Mizutani and others were waiting to watch Ai Fukuhara and Liu Shiwen( to name a few). Little did they know that they would all end up talking about their own hero- Achanta Sharath Kamal.

The papers said that the Indians had little to offer in this tournament, judging the players only on the basis of the world rankings. But then we all know that rankings are not really a true signifier of the strength and might of a player.


Sharath Kamal, my favourite sportsperson, who never disappoints, especially on home soil and who always keeps the tricolour flying high, knew that he was ready for the battle. His training for this tournament was different; he worked on his physical fitness for a week in Dusseldorf, and then went to Denmark (where there are several Asian players to practice with). Here in Jaipur, he looked well prepared, all set to go, to show the world who he really is and that no one can ever be compared to him.  


And he did the unexpected. Critics- SILENCED!


The SMS stadium at Jaipur came to life on 13th March 2015. Achanta Sharath Kamal, the world no 49, shook the world by two back to back wins. He not only beat World no. 8 Chuan Chin Yuan 3-1 but also beat the world’s best defencer- Joo SaeHyuk,the current world no 16, in a thrilling 3-2 encounter.


And that is why he is called the ‘living legend’ of Indian table tennis.





Sharath in his interview with the ITTF revealed that his association with his teammate Panagiotis Gionis from Greece who is a defender himself is the secret behind his improved play against defenders. He readily explained that Gionis has been telling his tactics on how to play against defenders and what they don’t like. Sharath made Joo uncomfortable by skilfully changing the lengths of serves and topspins. Joo SaeHyuk is very clever, he breaks the rhythm of your play but today, Sharath was better prepared. The decider set was such a nail biting run. Trailing 2-7, Sharath kept his belief strong bringing the game closer to 8-9. The next rally was the longest in the entire match with Sharath hitting 11 topspins to win the point and then levelling the match to 9-9. The unforced error by Joo at 10-9 got the crowd cheering their lungs out. But Joo levelled it at 10-10. Keeping in mid his tactics at 11-11, Sharath served short at Joo’s backhand and a quick topspin straight to his forehand fetched him the 3rd match point. Joo, who clearly looked restless and disturbed, gave up the match by missing his forehand attack from backhand corner and giving Sharath the biggest win of his career so far.


Clearly it was one of the biggest and happiest days of his life.  One Friday- the 13th he will always cherish.



After defeating Joo SaeHyuk

Quiet interesting to note here is the fact that the TTFI had denied to send Sharath’s entry for this tournament in the first place. Later he qualified for the tournament on the basis of his World Rank. Failing to take part in the National Championship held at Pondicherry in this year, Sharath was overlooked by the TTFI for this prestigious tournament. Sharath had also expressed his disappointment in one of the leading National dailies explaining that he had actually planned to play the Senior Nationals but unfortunately one of the players in his team got injured and thus the club was totally dependent on him to play the quarterfinals of the European Champions League.Normally the club understands his commitments with the National federation for domestic and international tournaments which are important to him and the country but this time due to this unique reason, he had to miss the National Championship to play for the club.


The TTFI had also expressed their displeasure at Sharath not playing the National Championships and threatened to take strict action against players who play in club leagues abroad and fail to take part in the National tournaments.


There is no greater joy than winning for your own country. Sometimes we just fail to understand that.


Sharath Kamal is someone who has brought Indian Table Tennis to new heights. His achievements are unprecedented in Indian table tennis history, and I feel that the decisions he has made should be well respected. Time and again he has proved his mettle only by performing better than before. The last thing to do would be to discourage him by unnecessary controversies and stories blown out of proportion.


He is an asset to the Nation. He does his job well, and we must respond back in the same way. His contributions to the game deservedly command accolades, and he will be well remembered for them in the annals of Indian table tennis history.





His facebook page was filled with congratulatory messages from all over India. It only speaks of the reach and influence of a man whose achievements say everything.


This is Sharath Kamal. And the man is unstoppable. And a biased me is only waiting for him to go to Rio.

Monday, February 16, 2015

35th National Games- My most memorable tournament!

As I watched the closing ceremony of the 35th National Games in Kerala on DD Sports from home, nostalgia hit my head. Just a week back I was there, in Kochi, where the Table Tennis event was held from 1-5th Feb, where I had the bestest time of my life, and now the games have ended already. Labelled as the “Mini Olympics of India”, the National Games is one such event which brings the best of the sportspersons in the country at one place to witness the best of what India has to offer. The games were very well organised, especially the Games Village at Thiruvananthapuram. Missing out on the last two editions of the National Games, I am glad that I was a part of these games, winning a Gold Medal in Women Doubles and a Bronze in the Women Teams. It was one of the most memorable tournaments for me.
Here’s why
Delhi has always been a pro-academic state; parents don’t encourage their kids to be a professional sportsperson, apart from only golf and tennis. Amidst that, in a Bengal-Tamil Nadu-Maharashtra dominated game of table tennis, nobody ever expected ‘Delhi’ to ever win a ‘Gold Medal’ at the National Games- a tournament where all the players give in their best, purely because of the money incentive. 2, 3 and 5 (lakh) were the only numbers ringing bells in each ones head. There were also a few who just wanted to show that they are still the best, which they did, towards the end. But for me, the motive was just to enjoy table tennis. Not a very usual mindset I for me, because until now, in my entire career I have been playing under the pressure of my own expectations- from self. Also I paired up with Manika Batra for the first time in the women doubles (which I whole heartedly enjoy) so I was only there to have some fun and give my best. And boom, strike GOLD! Winners in the Women Doubles! Indeed, it’s true, that when you go out there on the court to just give in your best and enjoy and just enjoy, think nothing else but the strategies of the game, you do well. Ask yourself, when was the last time you played with a free mind, you ll find yourself doing brilliant on the court. That’s what I exactly did.
I thank god for giving this to me.
Winners in the Women Doubles.


And there are some more memories from the National Games which I would cherish all my life.
Just two days before I was scheduled to leave I got a call from Dr.Sudarshan Pathak from Delhi Olympic Association – “Neha we have chosen you to be the flag bearer for Delhi in the opening ceremony”. I danced. Literally. I danced. As my mother wondered what was wrong with me, I continued to dance.  As I marched in the Greenfield Stadium, Thiruvananthapuram, carrying the flag for Delhi, with the entire contingent following me, my heart danced. Yes, I was on cloud nine, because I did feel on top of—uumm—Delhi!  Kejriwal-like feeling. Maybe. Wondering how Mr.Rathod, or Mr.Bindra or Mr.Sushil Kumar must have felt when they carried India’s flag at the Olympics and the CWG.

video
A happy moment!


And then I met one of the most handsome men in Indian Politics – Mr.Shashi Tharoor. Having told him that I am a Stephanian and an Olympian, he sounded more excited than me! The flattering voice and the ever charming smile left me mesmerized. Next day I found him tweeting the picture we took the previous night.


 And then again I danced. During the entire tournament we exchanged a series of tweets, of him wishing me good luck and me updating my results. Mr.Tharoor did prove to be lucky, here’s what he tweeted before the finals of the women doubles:

Apart from this, what I loved the most during the games was the team spirit Delhi displayed. I cannot compare it with that of team Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, but a huge hug to my entire team for the wonderful support we gave to each other throughout the tournament. It’s beautiful to see such togetherness in an individual sport of table tennis. And teams and doubles have always been my favourite even more than singles. We managed a Bronze medal in the teams, which itself gave the entire team a huge moral boost!

Happy with the Bronze- Team Delhi!

I wish table tennis was in Thiruvananthapuram, where the games village was, Table Tennis players missed that fun!
But otherwise the 35th National Games 2015 in Kerala will always be very close to my heart!
For some it was money, for some a point to prove, but for me, it was pure happiness and fun and quality Table Tennis all 5 days which I already miss!