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Poised to peak

Table tennis player T. Pradeepa says her game has changed for the better after she landed a job in LIC recently. She has now set her sights on the National championship title.

THOSE WERE frustrating times for paddler T. Pradeepa. Despite splendid performances, winning eight of the ten state-ranking titles in 2001, and claiming five titles the previous year, getting a job was proving to be arduous. Partly sponsored by Indian Airlines and later by Food Corporation of India for a couple of years, a full-time job was becoming a mirage. A god-sent offer came from Life Insurance Corporation in July this year, which evidently became the tonic that Pradeepa desperately needed.

Reminisces Pradeepa: ``The last two or three years I have been under tremendous pressure. But never did I contemplate quitting table tennis at any point of time.''

She says her game has changed for the better, as she no longer plays with the cobwebs in mind. ``Earlier, I used to play under pressure knowing that I have to get a job and it did affect my game to some extent,'' says Pradeepa.

The All India Inter-institutional title at New Delhi in August this year, her maiden victory at the National level, has given the 22-year old enormous confidence, self-esteem and optimism to see the future as a period to conquer new peaks.

In the inter-institutional championship, she toppled some reputed players such as Anindita Chakraborty, Poulomi Ghatak, Susmitha Roy and Montu Ghosh in the final. ``This championship I played my normal game without any tension,'' she says.

In the next event, the National ranking championship (East) at Durgapur, she almost did a repeat only to stumble at the last hurdle to Mouma Das of Bengal, defeating on the way Poulomi Ghatak, Nandita Saha, Anindita Chakraborty.

However, her first international exposure came in the 2001 Commonwealth Championship in New Delhi. Though she was not part of the Indian team, she entered the tournament as one ranked outside the top 8. ``I did not do well losing in the first round. But I learnt a lot from the foreign players, their quickness on the table and speed.''

On the local front, there have been more successes than failures for the Banking Management graduate from Ethiraj College.

Pradeepa led the Madras University team that clinched gold in the All India inter-university table tennis event for three years in succession.

And from 1995-96, she was ranked numero uno in India in the juniors. A gold in the team event and the doubles in the 1997 SAARC Asian Youth Championship at Dhaka has been one of the high points of her career.

The credit for Pradeepa's recent performances should be shared by her coaches — Muralidhara Rao and Srinivasa Rao (a former National coach), who have been the guiding lights in her rise to fame. The Rao brothers train around 60 students at Young Men's Indian Association, Mylapore, which Pradeepa joined in 1989.

While coaches do play a major role in a player's career, the challenges one faces at home turf are equally significant for they really fine tune him or her for battles away from the state.

In that case, Tamil Nadu, in particular, Chennai, has a surfeit of fine players — old and young — comprising N.R. Indu, N. Arul Selvi, and B. Bhuvaneswari, M. S. Mythili and the young brigade of Swarna, Aparna and Sangeetha. ``The standard of table tennis is very good here. You can always get good match practice,'' asserts Pradeepa. ``I have learnt a lot seeing and playing with them.'' She admires Indu for her mental strength. ``Indu's game is really effective as she relies more on top spin, and to be in the top four at the National level for almost five years now is not easy at all.'' And her favourite is Kolkata's Mouma Das. ``She (Mouma) is good in both block and attack. Hers is a very sharp game,'' says Pradeepa. She also admires veteran S. Raman for his superior technique and fitness.

A player with loads of talent but no consistency was the common refrain. Even Mouma Das says, ``she (Pradeepa) is a tough opponent to beat.'' A good victory in one match did not translate into a win in the subsequent matches. Her best performance in the National championships has been a quarterfinal appearance last year.

For the last three years, Pradeepa's National ranking has been hovering from 9 to 16. But, with notable displays in the last two National events, her ranking is bound to be in the top three. She understands what it takes to be at the top. ``I have to work really hard to remain there,'' she says. To mention Pradeepa in the same breath as M.S. Mythili (twice National champion) and Indu would be a bit too early. She has set her eyes on the National championship title. The way the LIC employee's career is shaping up, there are enough reasons to believe that she will fulfil it sooner than later.

K. KEERTHIVASAN

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