Joao Monteiro: Another gem from the Sporting academy who used to play Table Tennis with Cristiano Ronaldo
Last year, following the successes of many different leagues, organizers in India decided that we needed one for Table Tennis as well. Hence, the Ultimate Table Tennis League was formed. A big pool of Indian talent was on display. Some of the best foreign players were brought in.
One of them was Portugal's Joao Monteiro.
Hailing from the famous Sporting academy in Lisbon, Monteiro got into his profession at the same time a certain Cristiano Ronaldo dived into his.
Joao was the captain of Maharashtra United in the first season, where he lead his team to the semifinal, only to be defeated by the eventual winners - Falcons TTC. The Portuguese played a total of eighteen games in six matches, collecting 175 points.
Second time's a charm
Returning for the Ultimate Table Tennis League for the second consecutive season, Joao is definitely excited. He also relishes a chance to be back in the intense atmosphere of the league.
"Yes, I am very happy to be a part of the Ultimate Table Tennis League for the second season. Last year the organization was very good and the matches were very intense. I enjoyed it very much, and of course, I am very happy to be back for season 2 and play once again for Maharashtra." Joao told Sportskeeda.
"The level first time around was pretty good. Some of the best players in the world are playing here. The Indian players are also very good and are constantly improving," says Joao, praising the level of table tennis in India.
"Many Indian players are also in the top hundred and I believe a few are even in the top fifty. The mix of Indian and foreign players make a very strong team," says the Portuguese, "I believe it is good for whoever's watching and it is good for the players to be a part of these matches."
Maharashtra United could only make it until the semifinal stage last time around, as they were beaten by Falcons TTC. However, Maharashtra boasts one of the strongest squads this time around, fully hoping to go all the way.
Joao feels the weight of expectations, that are on him and his teammates with the fans obviously wanting their team to lift the ultimate prize.
"The expectations are always high. All the teams are very good. We just want to go to the table and try to win, every time." says Joao.
Since the league is in a team format, the Portuguese paddler also realizes the importance of the whole squad coming together off the table, in order to support the one who is in action, "All of us together support the player that is playing and make it a good, well-rounded, and spirited performance."
The Maharashtra side brought in some new blood by signing Anthony Amaraj and Madhurika Patkar. They have also brought in experienced coaches to help with their title aspirations. One of them is Francisco Santos, who also happens to be Joao's compatriot.
"I have worked with Francisco already, for the national team, for many years. So I am happy that he is one of the coaches of Maharashtra," says Joao, regarding his countryman, "I hope that with his experience he can help us during the matches along with the Indian coach (N. Ravichandran)."
Although he has always been thoroughly professional, even Joao will be indulging in a little FIFA World Cup mania, with his country drawn in one of the tougher groups. Nevertheless, the Lisbon-born paddler believes the Seleção das Quinas need to take it one game at a time.
"We are the European Champions going into the World Cup. However, the first goal must be to make it out of the group. We have Spain, a very difficult side, together with Iran and Morocco. So the first step is obviously to reach the last sixteen. Once we reach the last sixteen, anything is possible," says a defiant Joao.
Without a doubt, the World Cup will be provided an extra layer of shine by the evergreen and ever-dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo. However, even Ronaldo's biggest fans might not know the fact that the football superstar almost lifted a paddle, instead of kicking the ball.
Joao remembers his early days at Sporting Lisbon, where he would often cross paths with Ronaldo, usually to play a game of table tennis.
"When I was playing for the Portuguese club Sporting Club de Portugal (Sporting Lisbon), Ronaldo was also there. We came across many times. He usually came to us, with his friends, to play table tennis. He really enjoyed the game as well," the Portuguese paddler recalls.
"I had a lot of contact with him during his Sporting days and further when he joined Manchester United. But then he moved to Real Madrid and we were no longer in touch. He is obviously a very good football player but he is also a very good person," says Joao, as he reveals his admiration for CR7, "He does not forget his friends and helps a lot of people. Overall he is a very good human being."
The road ahead
After a short detour down the memory lane, our conversation finds its way back to the present, where Joao speaks about mentoring some of the stars of the future.
He understands that the talent at display is some of the best and believes that experience would not be a huge advantage in this situation: "It doesn't matter so much if the players are old or young because all the players are good. All the foreign players have also played in a lot of international matches, so here it doesn't matter that much if you are old or young."
Maharashtra fans will be expecting a nothing short of a championship from Joao and his teammates. However, the experienced paddler believes they need to take it one game at a time.
"I definitely hope so. Last season we were in the semi-final, where we lost to Falcons TTC, who then won the title. Our first goal must always be to reach the semifinal first and from there look to win it and then ultimately, the final. Of course, we cannot think about winning the competition already without even reaching the playoffs. So our first task should be the playoffs and then from there we should look forward."
Lastly, Joao speaks about his plans for the future, with one, in particular, involving playing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The paddler is approaching his twilight years. However, table tennis is a game of endurance more than it is of energy, and Joao believes that he can play at his best as long he feels at his best.
"Yes, that is the goal, as long as I feel that I can be amongst the best players in the world. I always keep on trying to improve my game, to be a better player, and to manage to win as many games as possible. So yes definitely, this is my goal.," the Portuguese signs off.
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