The first season of the Ultimate Table Tennis league has been about established names. And, even though she is just 17, RP-SG Mavericks’ selection of Archana Kamath has followed that trend. Hailed as one of the next big stars of Indian table tennis for the last two years, the Bengaluru girl has seen remarkable success across different age groups.
Kamath’s ascendancy culminated with the youth national championship last year. And while she may have already stockpiled an impressive amount of silverware, success seems to be more of an afterthought for her.
“I love playing,” is Kamath’s clipped reply. A similar carefree, child-like nonchalance is evident when asked about the ease with which she switches from singles and doubles. After all, the 17-year-old from Karnataka created history by leading her state to their first ever national team championship at the sub-junior level in 2014, which included defending her singles title.
‘Rankings don’t matter, just want to do well’
Her instincts and youthful exuberance may have well been the weapons that has put her on the table tennis map, “It’s a lot of fun,” Kamath told The Field. “I haven’t thought too much about adaptibility as such. Any difficulty in switching between singles and doubles? Pat comes the reply: “Not yet”.
Kamath’s steady but continuous collection of silverware has seen her rise as high as 25th in the recent Under-18 rankings. Yet again, she shrugs the record off in disdain, almost as if she is warning you that it’s merely a footnote for academic purposes – just another milestone in what could be a chequered career, “I just want to do well and the rankings don’t matter much to me. I just want to improve my game,” Kamath says.
Her uncle introduced the Bengaluru-based paddler to the sport when she was nine and remains one of her biggest fans to this day. “He is very supportive and encouraging. He watches me play even if I have to travel around the country,” said the 17-year-old about him.
Eyes set on Youth Olympics
A month ago, Kamath, along with fellow rising youth star Manav Thakkar, were rewarded by the International Table Tennis Federation with a one-year scholarship programme. She has clearly has eyes firmly set on the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires next year by improving her game,
“ I look forward to the tournament and the camp in Slovenia [the ITTF scholarship]. I have many areas where I have to improve – speed, agility, fitness... Tournament experience abroad gives a different feeling. You are not viewed differently from a foreign player. I have enjoyed playing,” Kamath said. “I want to qualify for the youth Olympics and do well there,” she added.
The teenager is no stranger to playing away from home, and despite acknowledging the vast gulf in infrastructure between India and European countries, she feels her country is making strides in bridging it: “Their views are slightly different [about the game], but are getting to the same point. In Germany, the facilities were a lot better there but I feel the gap in narrowing.”
‘I am an attacking player’
Kamath likes to set the pace in a contest and is unabashedly a “very attacking player”. However the going got tough when her side, RP-SG Mavericks faced Falcons TTC during the inaugural UTT encounter. Although the Indian made a strong fightback in game three, picking up three points in a row, China’s Wu Yang comfortably got the better of her.
Unfazed by the result, Kamath is encouraged by the support: “It is a very good feeling [to have a packed house watching you] and I feel table tennis is getting more and more popular – it charges me up playing in front of big crowds.”
At the moment, the soft-spoken, grounded Kamath is just basking in the joy of being in the same team as veteran Sharath Kamal and being coached by the vastly experienced Peter Engel [who briefly coached her in 2014]: “It’s exciting to have world class players and Indian legends my team and Kamal has given me many tips about my game,” she said.