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The young Table Tennis talents of India are stealing the spotlights. Manush Shah, Manav Thakkar and Mudit Dani are all taking Indian TT by a storm of late. But in the shadows, there sleeps a growing star in the form of Chinmaya Somaiya.
Despite only being 18 years of age, Chinmaya Somaiya never fails to dazzle both domestically and internationally as he continues to ascent up national rankings. He may be young, but the talented left-hand already has many medals and titles to his name, and his progression hasn’t gone unnoticed. With five international, and 15 national medals one gets the feeling it won’t be long before he’s a fully established himself at the highest standards.
Growing up, Chinmaya’s life was centred on Table Tennis, as a little boy; he was always smashing the ball on the table, with his father. He knew what he wanted to become: a professional Table Tennis player.
Timo Boll is Chinmaya’s self-confessed idol, and his influence can be seen in Chinmaya’s way of playing.
The many hours spent on sharpening the skills have paid its dividends, Chinmaya excels in a small area. From no-look shots to blistering backhand, the 18-year-old governs these skills into perfection.
Chinmaya’s achievements are staggering: Among many of his amazing achievements including winning a bronze medal at the Junior and Cadet Belgium open team and team gold medal at the South Asian Championship, team silver medal at the Junior and Cadet Jordan open and team gold medal at the Junior and Cadet Indian open.
An eye-catching performance at the second edition of Khelo India Youth Games, Pune saw him claim two gold medals – singles and doubles gold.
Still at 18, the MJ Pancholia College, Mumbai student has the ability to go onto bigger and better things in Table Tennis. His place is at the top, and his journey to that destination has just kicked off. He is definitely a prospect to keep on the radar in the coming years as he looks to continue his strong play.
India is one of the few countries that has succeeded a few times at rattling top countries dominance in the sport. What do you attribute that success to?
It is astounding how Indian Table Tennis players and the national team have come in the spotlight in recent years. The sport just seems to be on the up and up, some real stars coming through in recent years. The 2018 Commonwealth games was one of the main reasons for the emergence of the sport, when the senior men and women team performed amazingly well and won 8 medals for our country beating all top-ranked players. I guess those medals made a huge difference for us young players and changing the mindset that we are no less than any other country players. And last year, many senior men players have defeated opponents who were in top-15 in the world ranking.
Who is your all-time favourite table tennis player? Why?
My all-time favourite Table Tennis player is Timo Boll from Germany. He is also a left-handed player like me and the way he plays and uses his mind on the table is amazing. I always love watching him play and the placement of his strokes are very well planned. The best thing about him is that he never loses his cool whether he is winning or losing.
Do you think with enough hard work anyone can become good, or is some amount of innate talent required?
I believe that with enough hard work anyone can become a good player. Talent is a type of a bonus, but if talent doesn't work hard then hard work will beat talent. Smart work is also important just doing hard work won’t get you any results compared to when you work both hard and smart and if you got talent with that then you can achieve anything you want.
If you had to take inspiration from a table tennis coach, who would that be? Why?
If I had to take inspiration from a TT coach it would be Liu Guo Liang. He is from China and is probably one of the best in the world. He also knows the psychological side of table tennis extremely well and knows how to get the best of his player. As a player, he was in the top and now also as a coach he is one of the best. He was the coach of the China team and the coach of Zhang Zike in the Olympics and has trained most of the Chinese players who are in the top.
How often do you currently play and train?
I used to train around 5-6 hours practice and 1-2 hours physical fitness but after the lockdown, the routine has changed completely. Now I only do fitness at home for 2-3 hours a day as well as mental training for 45 minutes. it was tough at the starting but we all had no option but to take this situation positively and make the best out of what we can.
In order to reach the top, a player must deal with loss and frustration. How have you dealt with these feelings over the years?
Yes, I mean failure is a very important part of the journey and everyone has a bad patch or have lost important matches. In sports, it is important to embrace failure. Failure is part of the journey to achieving real success. I have also failed many times got angry on myself had second doubts but that is the time when we have to believe in ourselves and learn from our mistakes. It is very easy to say but hard to actually implement. So, I try to analyse what went wrong and discuss it with my coach and if I felt low, I used to think why I started playing and I have come so long I cannot give up now or maybe go to family or friends for some advice. I feel this is one of the hardest things to do.
If you could get anyone in the world, from the past or the present, to coach you during the most important match of your life, who would it be? Why?
If I could get someone from past or present to coach me during the most important match of my life it would be Coach Yen Wei. He trained me for around 3-4 years and I choose him because I would prefer someone who knows my strengths and weakness so that they would be able to guide me accordingly and also he has helped me develop my game.
Is there one match that you recall as the best table tennis that you have ever seen?
Yes, I recall a match that was played between Ma Long and Fan Zendong at the World Championship 2017. It was the Finals. They were the top 2 and that match had everything in it. The focus that they had and the willingness to win in both of them you could just see by looking at them, the rallies the power the placement it could not get better than that. That match went on the decider and also to deuce. Ma Long won that match. That was one of the highest levels of table tennis that I have seen.
I guess I am more of a backhand oriented player because I am a lefty I feel I have a little advantage to get a better angle and backhand just comes naturally to me.
What has been your best win and worst loss so far?
So I have beaten many higher rank players than me after I became a good player but I feel that my best win was when I was playing Under 12 and I had no ranking at that time but there was a player who was in the top 3 of under-15 and in the second round I defeated him. So at that time, I realised that, yes, I have a future in TT if I work hard and that was a turning point for me you know to defeat a more experienced and a very high ranked player in the Nationals and it gave me a lot of confidence to perform at India level at that time.
And my worst loss would be last year's National Championship Under 18 semi-finals. I had a good chance and I even had defeated the top seed in the previous round and I was in a good shape. My opponent was also good but in the last face of with him I had won convincingly but this time he was well prepared and I was a bit under pressure. It was very hard to deal with that loss as it was very important for me to win.
What would you say to other boys/girls who are not sure if they should play table tennis or not?
My advice for them would be that there is no harm in trying any sport you should try it out who knows what is your inner talent and table tennis is a very fun game. It looks easy to play but it definitely is not easy but it is still one of the most popular games which is played all over the world.
Let's go back in time. Can you share with us how you got started with table tennis? How old were you, who introduced you to the sport, and what is it about table tennis that resonated with you?
Well, I started playing table tennis at the age of 9 and my dad introduced me to this game as he also loves playing it. At first, I just used to watch him play with his friends then one day I asked him that can I also play so he gave me a racket and I was barely the height of the table so I was not able to get the ball to the opponents’ court so he told me to sit on the table and play. After that when I reached the height of the table I was able to play normally then a coach came to me and said that you hold the racket very well and your stroke is not that bad and maybe if you are interested then you can join a summer coaching camp. I was interested in playing so I said yes so that is how I started playing. My father also loved playing table tennis and I was watching him play since I was 6 - 7 years old so that is what resonated table tennis with me.
If you weren't playing table tennis, what might you be playing?
If not table tennis then I would have been playing some other sports maybe chess or any sport. I am more into sports than academics and I am a decent player of chess.
What is your goal for 2020 and your overall career goal?
My goals for 2020 was to bring more medals for India at the international level and to stay in top 5 in the India ranking but due to this pandemic there are no tournaments so I started to focus more on my mental fitness started meditating and even yoga. It is very helpful and I will always continue doing that.
My overall career goal would be to bring a medal for my country at the Olympics and the Asian Games. It seems a little difficult now but the standard of Indian table tennis is increasing day by day and the senior players have also proven that so I will give my best for that to happen
Power or placement?
What are the top 3 things on your bucket list of things that you would like to do in your lifetime?
The three things on my bucket list are:
First is sky diving without any doubt
Second would be scuba diving
What's the weirdest deja-vu experience you have encountered?
For me every deja-vu experience is weird but the weirdest experience was when I entered the court to play a match and I got a deja-vu that I had already played and lost that match and that’s what happened I lost the match
If you could eat one thing forever what would it be?
If I could eat one thing forever it would be pizza!