CHENNAI: Getting noticed by a top-ranking player in any sport is a dream come true for a sportsman, and for 12-year-old Nikkhil Menon, a class 7 student of SBOA School and Junior College in Anna Nagar, this dream came true sooner than he had expected.
The current national champion in the U-12 cadet category has earned praise from India’s top-ranked paddler Sharath Kamal, who believes that the youngster will blossom into one of the top players.
It was only three years ago that Nikkhil was enrolled in a summer camp and started playing table tennis.
The structure for table tennis tournament participation in Chennai is such that a player gets to play a number of matches while training among club training. In addition, numerous inter-club tournaments help players prepare for state meets and nationals.
"In 2018, I enrolled him in a table tennis camp during the summer vacation. Within just two months of coaching, the head coach, Rajagopal, identified his talent and felt he had the potential to climb up the ladder. He wanted my son to play in state tournaments the same year in the mini-cadet category (Under-10) to gain sufficient experience to play in the cadet category the following year. Nikkhil did well in the mini-cadet and was ranked No 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 began training under the reputed Rao brothers, Srinivasa and Muralidhara. They have been training players since the early 1980s and, in 35 years, have produced three Olympians, three Arjuna awardees, six national champions and scores of internationally acclaimed players.
“Nikkhil was highly talented for his age. He was a quick learner and had attention to detail. In a very short time, he started playing in cadet events and started winning and bagged the national U-12 cadet crown,” notes Srinivasa Rao.
Nikkhil believes that systematic training and fitness have helped him perform well at all levels. Even during the lockdown, he used a robot to keep in touch with the game.
“I train for about six hours a day. My day begins at 6 am and I have a practice session for three hours. Then again from 3 pm to 6 pm, I have another training session. During the lockdown, I practise with a robot set at home for five hours daily. I also attend online fitness classes and do yoga to stay fit,” says Nikkhil, who idolises Sharath Kamal and hopes to have an all-round game like the Olympian.
“I am keen to move to the next level and perform well. My strength is that I can stay calm and have 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 have been very accommodating. I am very good at academics. I also play the keyboard quite well,” shares Nikkhil.