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#TFGinterview: Dabang Smashers hope to make it big in UTT -- In conversation with former India No.1 Anthony Amalraj 

ANTHONY AMALRAJ is a two-time national champion and a men’s doubles silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games 2014, held at Glasglow. Ahead of the commencement of India’s first professional table tennis league, Ultimate Table Tennis, Anthony joined Dabang Smashers to contend for the Radha Kapoor-owned franchise. 

Anthony and teammate Marcos Freitas posing with their armor

The Tamil-Nadu lad is popularly known to have ended Indian legend Sharath Kamal’s five-year dominance in the men's national championship in 2012. He also partnered alongside Kamal to earn silver at Glasglow. Later on, Anthony climbed to the top position in national men’s rankings after winning singles and team gold at national games 2015 held in Kerala. 

Anthony Amalraj: I am happy and excited to be a part of the Dabang Smashers’ all-round team. I’ve been playing in Europe for the past seven years but I have found Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) to be better than each one of them. Although the European teams have world-class management and top-grade facilities, UTT appears to have taken things one step ahead. While playing overseas, I have been a part of teams which didn’t have coaches. However, in UTT, each team has appointed a foreign and a domestic coach. It is going to be a great learning curve for each one in the team.

Anthony, who has a lot of overseas experience under his belt, also won gold at the Chile Open, held this year. He also won gold, playing in the second division at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016.

Anthony Amalraj: The management here at Smashers has been outstanding. Unlike my overseas experience, players here only have to worry about their own training. All the facilities are provided by the franchise. Each player has been appointed with a manager to look after the player’s needs. We have some established overseas players like Marcos Freitas, Kou Lei in the team and it is always a great experience to train with them. 

The veteran paddler has had a long journey, filled with twists and turns, before making it big in the sport. He has been a regular participant at the international arena since he was a junior. He made his debut on the world stage at the 2003 Canadian Junior Open held in Edmonton, Canada. Subsequently, he made debut at the senior level at 2006 German Open held at Bayreuth, Germany and since then, there was no stopping.

Anthony Amalraj: I took up table-tennis at the age of seven. I picked it up looking at my father, who was a table tennis player. He was my childhood coach and I owe a huge part of my success to the training given by him. We never dreamt of making it this big when I started playing the sport. In order to pursue table-tennis professionally, I went on my first overseas tour in 2009. I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career and they have contributed in making me a better player.

The UTT is set to be held in two legs between July 14 and July 30. Chennai will host the first leg (13 July to 20 July) and Delhi will host the second (21 July to 25 July). The final leg, including the semi-final and finals, will be played at the NSCI in Mumbai between 26 July to 30 July. The tournament follows a round-robin format, with the top four making it into the semi-finals. The event will be played in an interesting format where each team will play nine matches. Each match will have three 11-point games.

Anthony Amalraj: The format of UTT is very challenging. The competitive league demands us to be at our best during each game. We cannot afford to lose our focus at any point in the match as games collectively will decide match winner. And as the league is going to be telecast on prime time on T.V., it is a great opportunity for all of us to perform well and draw eyeballs towards the sport. We shall try to ignore the pressure part that the broadcasting gets along with it, and only focus on its positive impact. I strongly believe that the UTT will a turning point in the sport’s history in India. Young aspirants will have an unprecedented chance of getting to watch and learn from our matches. 

The Dabangs were edged out 15-12 in their inaugural fixture of UTT, against the Shaze Challengers. Anthony put up a great fight before going down against Croatian paddler Andrej Gacina 2-1 (10-11, 11-2, 11-9). The Smashers will play their second game against Falcons TTC on July 16.

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