Vishwa could have been the finest in the country: Sharath Kamal’s tribute to teenage TT champ

The ‘morning practice group’ won’t be the same again. The cream of the crop of youngsters from table tennis clubs in Chennai practised under one roof three times a week. The select few were handpicked by senior pro Achanta Sharath Kamal, an Olympian and medallist at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Training sessions with Sharath started during the lockdown and continued till date. The trainees shared a close bond with their mentor.

On Sunday noon, the ‘morning practice group’ lost a member. Vishwa Deenadayalan, 18, a cadet and sub-junior national champion, died in a road accident when travelling from Guwahati to Shillong for the Senior Nationals and Inter-state championships.

“The last time I saw Vishwa was on Saturday morning when he beat me in a practice session. Saturday afternoon, he had forwarded on our group an Instagram post by World Table Tennis which had a photo of me as part of a caption contest,” Sharath said.

The mentor would have met his trainee in Shillong, the venue of the nationals. Vishwa had left a day earlier, on Sunday. Sharath was flying out the next day.

His voice choking with emotion, Sharath recalled the fateful Sunday.

Vishwa Deenadayalan with long-time coach R Ramnath Prasad of the Krishnaswamy TT club. (Express Photo)

“I was in Chennai. I was to leave on Monday morning. I was going to have an afternoon nap (on Sunday) before my practice session with my brother Rajath. That is when I got a call saying Vishwa is critical. When I heard that he passed away, my head was spinning. I didn’t know if I heard it right,” Sharath said.

The mood in Shillong was solemn on Monday, the first day of the nationals. Many of the players were unable to focus on the game after hearing the tragic news.

“Some of the players from the Tamil Nadu girls’ team saw the accident right before their eyes. They lost games they would not have otherwise. It was very sombre yesterday. Those in his age group were affected. A tough loss not just for me and his family and friends, but for the whole country. He was a talented kid, disciplined and with a great attitude,” Sharath said.
The veteran believes Vishwa would have become one of the ‘finest in the country’. He was making a smooth transition from the junior to the senior level. His aggressive style of play, which takes time to develop in a teenager, had impressed Sharath.

“His game style was very much like a senior player. He went for the attacking shots, he never played safe. He had a controlled game but he was always looking to create the point, which is a senior attitude. Generally, juniors win because they have good ball control and play defensively. In juniors, if you control the ball and play defensively, you win if you are able to put one more ball back in than your opponent who doesn’t have the power and speed.”

Dedicated & disciplined

Sharath shares a conversation he had with a trainer on Sunday to sum up why Vishwa was a delight to work with.

“As soon as the news came that he passed away, there is a fitness trainer I had introduced Vishwa to. He called me up and started crying. He said ‘Vishwa was almost like my son. When he says 5 pm, Vishwa would be there at 4.45 pm. If he needed a theraband, it was always there in his bag. He was so meticulous and always prepared.

“There is no one time when he said ‘Anna, I forgot my shoes, I don’t have a t-shirt to change into’. Or something like that. There have been times I have called him at 10.30 pm saying ‘tomorrow morning can we practise.’ He will show up for practice.”

Sharath had been regularly mentoring Vishwa for two years. The veteran took the initiative during the lockdown. The Tokyo Olympics were round the corner and Sharath was looking for good training partners. The youngsters on the verge of graduating to the senior category needed someone to guide them. It was a win-win situation.

“What happens is when you get into the senior category, a lot of kids you would have played with would have quit table tennis because of education and other stuff. All of Vishwa’s mates from the club had quit or were too junior.”

Vishwa’s was introduced to the sport when he accompanied his elder sister Raveena to the Krishnaswamy TT Club at Anna Nagar, Chennai. The boy who loved football didn’t enter the TT hall and waited outside. Coach R Ramnath Prasad recalled how he convinced Vishwa to try his hand at the sport after some cajoling.

Within a week of picking up a table tennis racquet for the first time, a six-year-old Vishwa was hitting 150 balls during a training session. “He was a natural right from the start. Forehand drive, backhand drive. He picked these shots up quickly. I knew he had potential straightaway,” coach Prasad said of Vishwa’s early steps in the sport.

Vishwa and Prasad shared a bond of coach-trainee for 13 years — from the first time he played the sport till his untimely death in the road accident. Next month, he would have been in Linz, Austria, for the WTT Youth Contender Series.

Before he travelled abroad, the coach had given him a target. “I wanted him to reach the semifinals in Shillong. He was determined to do well. He had a bright future. This is a big loss.”

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