Indu PURI & Sushmita ROY
Monday 15 December 2003
`They have a great deal to learn’, explained Indu PURI; coach to the Indian girls’ team at the 1st ITTF World Junior Championships in Santiago.
Eight times women’s singles champion of India, Indu PURI from New Delhi, established herself as the country’s leading female player two decades ago. She represented her country in six Commonwealth and World Table Tennis Championships, graduating to the number two ranked position in the Commonwealth in 1982; her travels around the world endowed her with a reservoir of experience.
Experience was the factor that the female teenage squad from India lacked when faced with tough European opposition in Santiago. In their opening Stage One encounter they lost to the Czech trio of Martina SMISTIKOVA, Iveta VACENOVSKA and Lenka HARABAZOVA by three games to nil but they acquitted themselves most creditably, especially Madurika PATKAR who extended HARABASZOVA the full five game distance.
Against Venezuela it was a different story, the roles were reversed with the Indian team three-nil victors but the match examined their mental aptitude to the full; the two opening games both went the full distance with Sushmita ROY and Madurika PATKAR beating Veronica MATA and Yamileth ARASME respectively. The contest that secured victory was less demanding Mausumi PAUL recorded a straight games victor over Josmary ALZUETA but no doubt the Indian girls’ life had been made easier by the efforts of her compatriots earlier in the contest.
In their final Stage One match it was European opposition once again, this time in the guise of Serbia and Montenegro; once again the girls performed well but the Europeans were simply more `street-wise’ when it came to perils of competition.
Playing against the defensive skills of Ana-Maria ERDELJI was a tough task for both Madurika PATKAR and Sushmita ROY, both lost to the tall backspin player who turned up the heat when the need arose. Every defender is different but when you never have the opportunity to play against defence then every defender is difficult. `There are no defenders in India’, sighed Indu PURI. `The girls have so few opportunities to compete against this style of play.’
It was the first time for fifteen years that the former Indian champion had been on international duty for her country and was quite realistic about the players under her care. `They must be more aggressive, more positive and take the initiative, too often they just react.’ Expecting unforced errors from opponents becomes less likely the higher the standard of play; the girls showed good control, good skills but when it came to the vital areas of serve and receive then their European counterparts were more severe.
However, they were not overwhelmed by Serbia and Montenegro; Ana-Maria ERDELJI presented immense problems but Sushmita PAUL did extend Gabriella FEHER to four games and to her eternal credit when all seemed lost Mausumi PAUL, in the third match of the fixture, recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Ema RECKO.
Third place in the group was no doubt predictable but the girls showed that they have the talent to play in the higher echelons of the sport. `They must improve their fitness, attend long term training camps and definitely be more positive’, explained Indu PURI. `There are some tremendous players here’, she continued. `The Chinese are outstanding but this is the grooming ground and for those in their final year as juniors the next step is the most important; to be a good senior player for some there is a long way to go.’
Wise words, junior table tennis is not an end in itself; it is a stepping stone; for some the step may prove too high but for those with a determined attitude greater achievements may be only just over the horizon; to be a good senior talent alone is not sufficient, it must be combined with hard work.