Challenges keep him going

Raman credits his longevity to self-motivation and more importantly the ability to use change as a challenge to fuel his appetite for the game.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

HE has an effect on players, opponents especially, with a close-to-the-table stance in match situations and using his racquet like a range-finder to whip backhand returns across the net. It was this ability to confront any challenge head on, using a mix of anticipation, mobility and placement to counter pace or spin which separated the 34-year-old S. Raman from the rest of the pack at the 64th senior National table tennis championship.

"I am comfortable that way. Playing close to the table allows me to be in charge," he said. Being there, crouched low and eyes on the table allows this intense champion to keep up the heat. Raman defeated a bunch of younger, fitter players to clinch his third National men's title in eight final appearances. The India No. 2 beat 20-year-old Sharat Kamal by four games to two in the 2003 final. Earlier in 1999 and 1992, he conquered Chetan Baboor and S. Sriram respectively.

Sharat, Baboor and Sriram represent almost three generations of Indian table tennis, with Raman at the opposite end of the table being the common factor. The 2003 Nationals runner-up is one of the most promising in the latest bunch of internationals. Baboor is India's best at present with victories over world's leading players under his belt and Sriram a name from the past, almost a decade ago.

Raman credits his longevity to self-motivation and more importantly the ability to use change as a challenge to fuel his appetite for the game. "Challenges keep me going. Over the years players have changed, rules have been modified, so has the nature of equipment. I try to adjust to new situations created due to these changes. The whole process of adapting myself is a challenge I look forward to."

The 34-year-old PSPB stalwart, employed with Indian Oil as Manager (Sales), has changed with the times, evolving into an all-round player with a flexible approach to situations. "The years I spent training with Kamlesh Mehta and Baboor, playing against them and alongside them for India, have been very helpful. I have yet to find a player in the present generation to match that quality, though I keep on learning new things playing against younger challengers such as Soumyadeep Roy."

Raman's sustained presence on the National and international scene can also be credited to his reputation as a freak when it comes to physical fitness and an intensity at the table few players can match. He played with a strapped knee in the later stages, but the hunger for victories remains unquenched. Aided by wife B. Bhuvaneshwari during prestigious events such as the Pune Nationals and during training sessions at home, he remains one of the enduring characters of Indian sport.