Achanta Sharath Kamal, a legend in Indian table tennis, is 37 years old. His compatriot, team-mate and state-mate, Anthony Amalraj is 33.
Despite being from a similar age-group, the latter made a name for himself only in 2012, when the former was already a six-time national champion, a two-time Olympian, a Commonwealth Games medallist and an Arjuna awardee.
Anthony Amalraj may have been a late bloomer but is now an indispensable part of the Indian men’s table tennis team.
The 33-year-old had won bronze in the men’s team event along with Achanta Sharath Kamal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games but made a name for himself only a couple of years later.
The game-changing year
Anthony Amalraj’s first tryst in the limelight came in 2012 after he defeated Achanta Sharath Kamal in the National Table Tennis Championship final, then denying him a seventh title. It was a dream come true and he had worked on a very important aspect prior to it.
“I paid a lot of attention to the mental preparation part since I have faced challenges in the past. I played the semi-finals twice and lost twice whilst leading the games, so this season I made it a point to train myself mentally for big matches,” he had said in an interview with Table Tennis Bug.
An unsuccessful experiment and renewed focus
Things were looking up post the win as he teamed up with Achanta Sharath Kamal to win silver in the men’s doubles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He then decided to chart a similar path to his partner by going to Europe.
However, the work on his psyche had to be done again as it did not quite go to plan. Anthony Amalraj competed in the Polish league but could not kick on, losing to lesser-ranked opponents on a regular basis.
After a couple of lean years, the paddler came into his own in 2017, finishing the year as the top player in India. He was bestowed with the Arjuna Award the same year and the success kept coming in 2018 when he won the gold in the men’s team event at the Commonwealth Games along with old mate, Achanta Sharath Kamal and youngsters, Harmeet Desai, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Sanil Shetty.
The triumph was a big moment in Indian table tennis and Amalraj revealed how he changed his mindset to achieve the dream of playing at the Olympics.
“I need to win big games in the pro tours. I am working harder than I have ever before. I have played in three Commonwealth Games but playing in the Olympics is what is left in my career,” he told the Asian Age in 2018.
The single-minded focus seemed to work as he won gold in the 2019 Commonwealth Table Tennis championships along with Manav Thakkar to go with the bronze at the Australian Open, the first medal for India in the World Tour Platinum event, along with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
Now he will aim to make up for lost time and help guide India to a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That mission will get underway at the World Team Qualification Tournament in Portugal which gets underway on 22nd January.