Ultimate Table Tennis 2018: 'Table Tennis is not just a sport for us, it is a connecting language' says Maharashtra United coach N Ravichandran
“The first season is always very memorable and it will remain in our memories forever. UTT had a very positive impact at the national level, which was visibly felt during the Commonwealth Games. Both men and women put up impressive performances and made the nation proud by winning so many medals. A part of the credit must definitely go to UTT, as it gave the players the much-needed play time as well as exposure - playing with top international players,” shares N Ravichandran, in an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda.
Ultimate Table Tennis is also a good opportunity for lower ranked international players to play with some of the top Indian players of the likes of Sathiyan Gyanasekaran, Achanta Sharath, Harmeet Desai, Anthony Amalraj, and Sanil Shetty amongst men, and Manika Batra, Mouma Das among women.
Ravichandran has trained with Amalraj before and they share a great bond. Speaking on how crucial Amalraj will be to the squad, he says, "Amalraj comes from the same city as I, and I have known him since his childhood when he just started practising in an academy. He is like a ‘big brother’ in the team."
Ravichandran knows the complete background of Anthony and this may be an added advantage for Maharashtra United. To add icing on the cake, he has also trained with Madhurika Patkar in the previous edition, when he was in charge of Dabang Smashers TTC during UTT Season 1.
Maharashtra United will be a culmination of both experience and young performers this time around. They have also managed to retain their star performer of the last season, Joao Monteiro, the Portuguese paddler, who captained the side to the semifinals. Monteiro is very much a capable leader and will try to lead his team all the way to the finals this time around.
He is someone who can be relied on as he has the rich experience of playing with Indian players. Francisco Santos - the International coach on board for Maharashtra United - is another Portuguese International and has trained with Joao for many years. Francisco was the coach of the winning team of the inaugural season, Falcons TTC.
When asked to elaborate on the approach he follows to inculcate training to players from different parts of the World - who speak different languages - and how he addresses this communication gap, Ravichandran goes on to say, “First and foremost, all of us speak Table Tennis. It is not just a sport, it is also a medium for us and a connecting language. The communication barrier is also not a problem for our team as everyone comprehends and speaks English.
Ravichandran tells Sportskeeda that UTT will be having participants from 22 countries in the second season, and can also boast of 25 Olympians who are taking part.
To add to this, 18 national champions from different parts of the globe are associated with this premier Table Tennis event. This is in itself a huge achievement and reflects that India is well-equipped and capable of hosting such large-scale events of the sport, which is sure to attract not only the best players but also top-notch coaches from other parts of the World.
The number of matches in a tie has been cut short from nine to seven for this season, to keep the audience hooked. Each match will still consist of three sets, and the golden point rule holds good.
“Choosing the biggest competitor will be difficult as of now, and whoever plays well in the tie will win it as this format is tricky. We can only train hard and hope that our players are in a position to face the upcoming challenges,” says Ravichandran, when asked about which team he feels will be their toughest competitor.
Selena, the 18-year-old rising star is also a very bright prospect in Maharashtra United. 21-year-old Utkarsh will also be getting a platform to learn from the senior players. Even the foreign players are extremely approachable and youngsters can easily walk up to them and take tips to learn the nuances of the trade. Technically, there is a lot to improve for the young players and it will certainly be a great learning experience for them in all the respective teams.
A coach needs to keep a lot of things in mind. “A junior player needs to be catered to like a parent, who just wants good for his child and the coach takes the liberty to honestly point out his strengths and weaknesses in the most polite manner possible. However, for the mature senior players, the approach varies slightly. They know everything, but need to be reminded of what to do - and what not to do - again and again," adds Ravichandran.
"Even the foreign players are very professional in their approach and listen to the entire nitty-gritty of the game carefully. It is important to do our homework, formulate strategies, and go prepared on our end. As coaches, it is also our responsibility to absorb the pent-up stress from the worked-up mind of a player just before his/her match, so that he enters the arena fearless, being confident of his/her game, and not afraid to try out their skilful shots," Ravichandran signs off.
Maharashtra United lost the first tie of Ultimate Table Tennis to Falcons TTC, however, there is still a long way to go for them. A clear mindset is crucial before entering the next game. Supporting each other will be key if they want to achieve unprecedented success in the competition. Under the expert guidance of two extremely capable coaches, Maharashtra United will be one of the favourites to go far in the league, whose atmosphere has already started heating up after just two days of action.
Do you agree with the comments of the Maharashtra United coach? Sound off in the comments section below!