By James Francis
A record nine times champion of India, four times gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games and recently crowned winner of the 2020 ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open, Sharath Kamal Achanta is undoubtedly one of the greatest table tennis players of his nation.
The man who taught him how to become a world-beater is Srinivasa Rao, his father, whose love affair with the sport saw him practice five hours per day on top of his job working in Income Tax.
From being a player of note, Srinivasa set out on his coaching career, enrolling on a 10-month diploma coaching course in 1982-83, taking a long leave from work in the process. Once a qualified coach, it did not take him long to make an impact. In his first coaching role at Santhome, Chetan Baboor and S Raman were among the first batch of trainees. Both went on to clinch multiple national crowns and the Commonwealth Games doubles gold.
The 64-year-old has since shifted his academy to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where the likes of K Shamini, Neha Agarwal and Anthony Amalraj have honed their skills under him. He still coaches there twice a day, six days a week.
But Srinivasa’s most successful pupil of all was his son, who he moulded into a national champion across all age groups before going on to become the pride of Indian table tennis.
“My father gave a lot of emphasis on perfecting basics. He wanted me to have a strong base. In all these years, those lessons have helped me the most. A strict coach? He believes discipline is the key to success. He did not give me any additional leeway just because I am his son and I’m thankful for that.” – Sharath Kamal Achanta
Bladimir Diaz was recognised for his enormous contribution to the rise of Puerto Rican table tennis when he received the 2019 ITTF Star Coach award last December. Father to Adriana and Melanie, he has coached his daughters to some of the biggest success stories the sport has seen in the Pan America region.
He guided Adriana to top honours twice at the Pan America Cup and women’s singles gold at the 2019 Pan American Games, an event which also saw the Diaz sisters take home gold in the women’s doubles and also the team event, alongside Daniely Rios: a sensational achievement that reverberated across an entire continent and beyond.
He may not have enjoyed a noteworthy playing career of his own, but his ability as a coach is there for all to see, nurturing Adriana into a global superstar. He it was who decided that Adriana’s career would be best served by a highly beneficial learning period in China. He it was who trusted her throughout all the tough moments at the start of her journey, filling her with words of encouragement every step of the way.
At the age of seven, Adriana competed at the International Table Tennis Federation Swedish Junior and Cadet Open in Sweden. She lost every set and every match, including one in which she didn’t score a single point.
“One man laughed at me, and I started crying,” Adriana recalls. “I got mad, but my dad told me, ‘You will get better, and you will get stronger.’ I just trusted my dad.” – Adriana Diaz
Hana Goda is one of Africa’s biggest sport stars in the making. When she was just nine years of age, she became the youngest ever national champion in Egyptian table tennis history,
The 12-year-old keeps growing and she holds big ambitions to become one of the greatest table tennis players in the world. Helping her to achieve her goals is dedicated mother, Radwa Azab.
A qualified doctor, Radwa worked at the Health Insurance Hospital in Cairo, but left her job eight years ago to provide full-time support to Hana as she was starting off her journey in the world of table tennis.
Radwa is not Hana’s coach, but her loyal and caring presence has had a notable influence on Hana, helping to solidify a mental strength and toughness that bely her tender years.
“I encourage her and stand beside Hana in all situations, win or lose. If she travels without the coach, I can give her some advice before matches and afterwards. I am not a coach, but I know her advantage and how she can win. I just remind Hana of her ability and encourage her. I love being with Hana to achieve her dream.” – Radwa Azab, mother of Hana Goda
Radwa and her husband have three children and Hana is not the only sporting talent in the family! Older brother Mohamed (15) is playing water polo, while younger sister Hamss (6) is aiming to follow Hana’s footsteps in table tennis.
For more than a decade, Kasumi Ishikawa has been at the forefront of Japanese table tennis. An Olympic Games silver and bronze medallist with Team Japan in 2012 and 2016 respectively, alongside multiple medals won at Team World Championships and Team World Cup events, Ishikawa has enjoyed a distinguished singles career, winning eight titles on the ITTF World Tour and the top prize at the 2014 Grand Finals.
Table tennis certainly runs in the family for Ishikawa, whose father Kimihisa and mother Kumi are both former players and gave her special training since she was young. Indeed, Kumi had been a player of some repute for the business team of Fukuoka Nissan Motor.
When Kasumi was aged only seven, Kumi opened a table tennis club “Yamaguchi Junior Club” where she would bring her daughter to lay the foundations for her budding table tennis career.
After graduating from primary school, Ishikawa decided to live away from home, continuing her studies in the Osaka region, but her passion for table tennis kept on growing, as she trained with All-Japan class players until late at night including holidays.
The hard work has definitely paid off for Kasumi, who still to this day is supported by Kumi, who, as a member of “Team Kasumi” accompanies her daughter’s training sessions and matches at worldwide events.
An Olympic bronze medallist in 2012, a Men’s World Cup champion in 2017, a multiple title-winner on the ITTF World Tour and former world no.1: Dimitrij Ovtcharov has enjoyed a stellar table tennis career to date, a career which might have been very different were it not for his father, Mikhail Ovtcharov.
Growing up in the former Soviet Union, Mikhail forged a successful playing career of his own during the 1980s, winning gold at the 1982 USSR Championships. He was a regular fixture for the USSR national team at the time, competing at multiple European and World Championships.
After marrying his wife Tatyana, their son Dimitrij was born in Kiev in 1988 and in 1992, six years after the Chernobyl disaster, the family decided to move to Germany to stay away from the radioactive zone and lay down the path for a better life.
In Germany, Ovtcharov’s career has flourished, developing into one of his nation’s finest players of his generation, and contributing to multiple medal victories for Germany at the Olympic Games, World Championships, Team World Cup and European Championships.
So, there we have it: five inspirational table tennis families that have had an amazing impact on the game, but of course there are many more out there that could have been featured as well.
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