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Paddler par excellence

Table-tennis ace Subramanian Raman, at 33, is still rated the fittest player in the game today. He won his second title this year, beating top-ranked youngsters. A profile...


TOUGH TIMES don't last, tough men do. This maxim is most appropriate for paddler, Subramanian Raman. Having seen the best and worst times in a career spanning close to 15 years at the National level, the veteran has managed to hold his own amidst several talented youngsters. . His task has not been made any easier with a slew of new rules sweeping the game such as the 11-point system, ball size (38mm to 40mm) and modifications in the service.

For one who loves challenges and is ever willing to work on his game, the changes turned out to be nothing but a minor hurdle. The 33-year-old twice-National Champion won his second title this year — the West Zone National Ranking Tournament at Nagpur beating top-ranked youngsters such as Ranbir Das and Soumyadeep Roy. He had won the inter-institution title at New Delhi earlier. He also reached the final of the Central India National Ranking Tournament at Indore recently. Explains Raman, "Nobody is limited if the attitude to excel remains. It is basically mind over matter. In the end it all boils down to attitude."

Raman attributes his success largely to his wife and fellow player B. Bhuvaneswari whom he married in 1998 after five years of courtship. "She is a steady head. This, and the fact that she herself is a player have helped my game immensely. We discuss techniques threadbare and practise a lot at the table," says the southpaw.

He says that having played with the likes of Kamlesh Mehta and Chetan P. Baboor have also stood him in good stead over the years. "Having competed against Kamlesh and Chetan is an advantage that I enjoy over the younger players." The two (Kamlesh and Chetan), according to Raman, have influenced his game to a large extent.

What makes Raman such an endearing personality are his clear diction and lucid expression of views on issues, which he feels strongly about. Many might certainly disagree with him but will find it difficult to ignore the issues he raises.

"Most coaches in India have a prescribed formula. It is more of an `I say you do' format.

Their knowledge base is also limited. They have not been able to keep pace with the changes taking place in the game. Today's game is different," he says. He further argues that a good coach is one who is able to look at his wards' strengths and weakness, ask his or her views and work jointly in that direction. The coaches, he suggests, will have to be more participative and ensure the greater involvement of their wards to get the best out of them.

After parting ways with Chandrasekar, Raman decided to go it alone without help from coaches. Soon, the tide began to flow in his direction. He bagged his maiden National Championship in Goa in 1993 and then another National Championship title followed in 1999 in Lucknow. He says his career graph began move upward only after 1992.

Starting at an age (13), which he believes is "very late" for table tennis; Raman learnt the basics from V. Ramachandran. A. Srinivasa Rao and Muralidhara Rao then coached him, before he moved on to V. Chandrasekar in 1989.

Within a couple of years Raman and Chandrasekar parted ways "due to a difference of opinion." Recalls Raman, "Chandra felt that since I had a weak backhand, I needed to use pimple, which I was opposed to." Raman apparently did not like the idea of having to use pimple and instead wanted to improve his weaker side — the backhand.

At the same time, Raman is not averse to according credit to Chandrasekar under whose guidance he honed his forehand technique. He says he learnt the virtues of hard work from the Srinivasa Rao brothers.

The Arjuna Awardee has had his share of misfortunes but has emerged stronger from each one of them. In 1992, Raman developed a back problem similar to spondylitis, forcing him to be away from the table for around seven months.

As late as 2001, his elder brother died in a car accident in the U. S. "The incident happened a day before the start of the season, and I missed three to four zonal tournaments. It was a tough phase of my life," concedes Raman.

He has now reached the stage where he has nothing more to prove to anybody. Having taken part in six World Championships, four SAF Games, six Commonwealth Championships and five Asian Championships, the urge to win National titles does not excite him as much. "At this stage, a medal in the Commonwealth Championship would be better," he says.

His "best and most satisfying moments" have been the gold in the doubles event of the 1997 and 1999 Commonwealth Championships. The 1995 SAF Games at Chennai were memorable, with India winning the team gold and Raman clinching a gold in the singles event, silver in the doubles and another silver in the mixed doubles.

But make no mistake; Raman is one of the fittest among the current lot in the National level and does look good enough for another go at the National Championship title. "Though I was a fitness freak in my earlier days, the concept of physical fitness oriented towards table tennis took place only after 1995," says the Sales Manager of the Indian Oil Corporation.

The Olympian is the only player from Tamil Nadu who is ranked among the top five at the National level. With two titles this season, and a finalist in one, Raman says, "I am heading towards Number 1." In the mid-term classification list released, Raman is ranked four.

Comfortably settled with his two-year-old daughter at his Saligramam residence (along with his parents) where he has a table of his own to practice, Raman can afford to look back with satisfaction. "I want our players to come and play with me. I am ready to share my experience," he says.

The Santhome school, where he studied and learnt the nuances of the game for nine long years, will most probably be his next stop. "I have got an offer from the principal of the school (Santhome) to be the coach," he says. Perhaps, then he will work towards setting right the anomalies he has found in the Indian coaching system.

K. KEERTHIVASAN

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