Anthony Amalraj needs no introduction in the world of Table Tennis. The 34-year old veteran won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia.
Currently ranked No. 100 worldwide and is behind A Sharath Kamal (No. 31), G Sathiyan (No.32) and Harmeet Desai (No. 72), and No. 4 in India. Amalraj is spending his time wisely under the current state-imposed lockdown because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The Arjuna awardee has played alongside some of the best table tennis players in India.
Sports India Show had the opportunity to chat with Anthony Amalraj, where he talks about different aspects on Table Tennis and how important it is to maintain mental fitness apart from physical.
1.) How are you dealing with the lockdown? Is it frustrating to you?
The first month of the lockdown was good because there was a lot of tournament last year. I played nearly 17 to 18 international tournament and then the national ranking tournament and I was very much tired as well, So I was able to spend my time at home resting and reading.
But now the lockdown has lasted almost more than two and a half months, so it’s getting difficult now because for the first time in my life I am staying at home for more than two months and not even stepping out of the house, So it’s really very difficult.
But I have started training and I have a small gym at my home, So I have been working out. For the past three to four days I have also started practicing table tennis as well.
2.) What sort of training have you been doing indoors?
I have a bicycle, cross trainer at my home and it is very beneficial for the core. For table tennis, we have a lot of tournaments, the intensity is very high, we have a tournament every week. So for the last two years, it was very difficult for me to focus on fitness because we need a gap as well to recover and if something goes wrong with our techniques, we need to work on that as well.
The ranking system in table tennis has also changed for the last two-years. Previously it was very different as we can play an international tournament when we need to and keep our rankings better, but now we have to play every week and every ten days we have a tournament.
So the last two years were really tiring for me and I wasn’t able to work on my specific techniques. So I have been utilizing the time under lockdown for the past two-months to improve myself.
3.) You work extensively with a hypnotherapist, can you tell us how it has helped you and if you would recommend other athletes to use their services as well?
We always ask questions like why China is better than us at sports. The thing is they’re advanced in every aspect be it fitness, nutrition, coaches and mental fitness. But when I was young, like before 15-20 years, it was like play more, more, more… But for the last 10 years, the trend has changed and we are focusing more on technique. Before it was quantity training and we got better coaches, training and we improved our knowledge, but now after our understanding has improved and we have developed, we are now focusing more on qualitative training.
But now for the last five years, we are focusing more on physical training. However, even after all this, there’s an important aspect that needs to be looked at and that is mental fitness. For example, to keep our body healthy we have to eat food everyday and workout to remain physically fit. But in all this, we forget about our mental health because everything is from the mind.
Yoga and meditation can only give us temporary relief. Before the match, many players used to meditate, but that will only work for you up to a particular stage. In sports, an athlete has to be ready for numerous situations.
For example, in Table Tennis, when a game is 3-all 10-all, I cannot think what my mind is thinking or how I am thinking or how I am reacting, and at that particular point in time, I cannot change and everything that I do should happen automatically. For that, I have to train my mind, and with hypnotherapy, my mind is already prepared for this pressure moment. The mind works very deeply and goes into the subconscious stage.
In pressure stages, I used to lose matches but then I realized that I was doing good on the table with the technique, my fitness was excellent, but I felt that I was lacking somewhere. Even yoga and meditation weren’t helping, so this hypnotherapy is like going to the subconsciousness of the mind and changing everything….whatever the negative thoughts are, or how you’re approaching the situation.
So you can see in the last ten years, my performance has gotten better, be it the CWG, Asian Games or other international tournaments. For me, it took a little time to reach that stage, but I have been getting better.
4.) You started the year great as you broke into the top 100, tell me about that feeling? How does it feel to be counted amongst the 100 best Table Tennis players on the planet?
It is everyone’s dream. For example, at first, I was aiming to become a National champion which I became, then I was aiming to win a CWG medal and I won and then the Asian Games medal which also I won.
But today there’s so much fluctuations happening in the ratings. In 2017, I was in the top 70 and I was playing so good and suddenly my peak has gone down and I stumbled back to 120. However, in the last one and a half years, I have been struggling with the rankings. If the old ranking system were in use, I would definitely be in the top 60 for sure. In the last two years, I have been consistently winning against the better players but with the change in the ranking system so many players are suffering.
But even after that, breaking into the top 100 gives me motivation. I cannot say satisfaction because if I am satisfied by being in the top 100 I won’t get better.
My last tournament was Qatar opens and it’s a platinum tournament. There I was the only Indian to qualify. There I defeated the No. 53 and No. 65 ranked player there and eventually lost to world No.6 ranked player. I cancelled the decision to play at Oman Open because the Coronavirus situation was getting serious and I didn’t want to take any risk. Had I played that event, my rankings would have improved to No. 85 or something.
5.) Prior to the Coronavirus saga, you were riding on a hot streak having won two medals at CWG 2018 and a Bronze at Asian Games and were en route to the Olympics. Do you feel the lockdown has affected your momentum? Once the lockdown eases, how early do you feel you can get your flow back?
If you see every player has been affected by the lockdown. So If I go through some problems, other players are also getting affected by this. There are thousands and thousands of players going through the same situation. However, it still differs from players to players. For example, I have started service practice and from next week onwards, I will start playing for 45 minutes to an hour and then I will increase the intensity. I have my own club as well, but given the current situations, it’s important to take care of the people coming to the club as well.
However, at this time it is important for the mind and heart to not get broken. This Coronavirus situation has been a problem for the last three months, but there are instances where the players get injured and have to undergo surgery and they have to remain out of action for seven to eight months. However, after coming out of long hiatus, they are able to perform at their very best. So a three months coronavirus lockdown shouldn’t be an excuse for loss in momentum.
5.) Most casual fans often have this question about Table Tennis doubles player, how do you guys choose your partner? Do you guys train alongside numerous people and chose the ones you are most comfortable with or is there any other procedure?
It’s about whoever you feel comfortable with. Whoever players we get better with or develop an understanding of the game. Before I was playing with Sarath, but nowadays, I am playing more with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. So his game and my game is very similar…Like I enjoy playing near the table, he also does the same. He plays fast like me and our mentality matches. Like even we haven’t trained together for a tournament, we play well because we have developed an understanding and play according to the situation that arises on the table.