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Young toad is ready to follow in his idol’s footsteps – The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: To be noticed by a top player in any sport is a dream come true for a sportsman, and for 12 year old Nikkhil Menon, a grade 7 student of SBOA School and Junior College in Anna Nagar, this dream came true before he had expected.

The current national champion in the U-12 cadets category has received praise from India’s best rower Sharath Kamal, who believes the youngster will grow into one of the top players.

It was only three years ago that Nikkhil went to summer camp and started playing table tennis.

The structure for participating in table tennis tournaments in Chennai is such that a player can play a number of matches while training between club training sessions. In addition, numerous interclub tournaments help players prepare for state encounters and nationals.

“In 2018 I signed him up for a table tennis camp over the summer break. Within just two months of coaching, the head coach, Rajagopal, identified his talent and felt he had the potential to climb the ladder. He wanted my son to play in state tournaments the same year in the mini-cadet category (under 10) to gain enough experience to play in the cadet category the following year. Nikkhil did well in the mini-cadet, coming in at number 7,” says his father, Shivaji Prabhakar.

The turning point for Nikkhil came when he joined the SDAT-AKG Table Tennis Development Center at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in 2019 and started training under the acclaimed brothers Rao, Srinivasa and Muralidhara. They have been training players since the early 1980s and in 35 years have produced three Olympians, three Arjuna winners, six national champions and dozens of internationally acclaimed players.

“Nikkhil was very talented for his age. He learned quickly and had an eye for detail. In a very short time, he started playing in cadet events and started winning and taking the national U-12 cadet crown,” notes Srinivasa Rao.

Nikkhil believes that systematic training and fitness have helped him to perform well at all levels. Even during the lockdown, he used a robot to keep in touch with the game.

“I train about six hours a day. My day starts at 6am and I have a three hour practice session. Then I have another training from 3 pm to 6 pm. During the lockdown I practice five hours a day with a robot set at home. I also take fitness classes online and do yoga to keep fit,” says Nikkhil, who idolizes Sharath Kamal and hopes for an all-round game like the Olympian.

“I want to go to the next level and perform well. My strength is that I can remain calm and have a good composure during pressure situations in a match. I need to work on increasing the speed of my foot movements. My school (management) and teachers were very accommodating. I am very good at academics. I also play the keyboard fairly well,” says Nikkhil.

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