Realising a dream

The year 2011 was a memorable one for Anthony Amalraj. Besides winning four National zonal titles, he also attained the No. 1 ranking in the country. By K. Keerthivasan.

His transformation has been remarkable. In the past, on numerous occasions Anthony Amalraj flattered to deceive. Losing matches from advantageous positions was one of his major weaknesses. However, the good news now is that he seems to have turned the corner.

His four National zonal titles — the Inter-Institutional, East Zone (Bholpur), West Zone (Thane) and Central Zone (Gandhidham) — in 2011 and the India No. 1 ranking he attained following the victory over his idol Sharath Kamal in the Inter-Institutional Championship final in Burnpur, West Bengal, last August make Amalraj the hot favourite for the singles title in the National Championships, to be held in Lucknow from January 23.

Amalraj had for long been dreaming of becoming India No. 1. When the moment arrived, he didn't know how to react. He was at loss for words.

“I am really happy that I've reached the No. 1 position — feeling really great. Since cadets, I have never become the top player in any category,” he said.

The second highest ranked Indian in the world after Sharath, Amalraj (rank: 255) had often fallen short of expectations. It's not because he was not talented, but he got either over-excited and gifted points to his opponents or simply crumbled under pressure.

Amalraj slowly learnt to play to his potential in major tournaments. His performance last year is a testimony to his maturity. He has now set his sights on the Nationals and has been preparing for the tournament since last month at Seligenstadt TTC in Germany. “The second-string German National team is training in Hanau and there are some very good players. So the quality of practice is very high. For the forthcoming Nationals I am preparing very hard. That's why I am in Germany now, so that I can practise and play matches at the international level and remain in great shape,” he said.

Amalraj has hardly been at home — he has been out of Tamil Nadu since the age of 10. His father Arputhuraj sent him to the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy in Ajmer. He returned to Chennai only after finishing his schooling.

As a player, he loved to attack but overall he needed to improve his game a lot more to be able to rub shoulders with the top players in the country. The Rao brothers, Srinivasa and Muralidhara, took Amalraj under their wings and made him a more attacking and consistent player at the National level.

It was under the former National champion S. Raman that Amalraj realised he needed to raise his game if he had to do well at the international level. “I came to know how to be technically strong and mentally positive. He's not only a very good coach, I feel he's been a huge inspiration for me,” said Amalraj of Raman. He also gave due credit to R. Rajesh, another coach at the Raman Academy, for his growth.

Amalraj has made it to the top purely on his desire and will power to be among the best. His family has been a source of strength for him in his journey. He has a table in his house and he practises regularly whenever he is at home.

“What I am today is because of my parents. My father was my first coach, and my mother always has been a big support for me. Before I begin my practice at home, she cleans the hall and the floor. She ensures that everything is ready before I play. And when I play multi-ball she picks up the balls for me. My family has supported me morally and financially always,” he said.

Amalraj is of the view that without Sharath any National event is incomplete. “There is no doubt that he is the best player in India, so defeating him in Burnpur was very special,” he said.