What's the difference between Novak Djokovic winning the Australian Open and Anthony Amalraj claiming his maiden national table tennis title? On the day the Serb bared his chest to adoring fans at the Melbourne Park, the 26-year-old paddler from Chennai was reprimanded for his euphoric celebration in Lucknow.
"I didn't behave wrongly nor did I hurt anyone by my action," Amalraj told HT, referring to the instance which made national headlines. What the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist had done was defeat Sharath Kamal in the final of the 73rd Senior National and Inter-State Table Tennis Championships and then stun by leaping on to the table, flinging his bat away and pumping his fists.
"Only I know how hard I've worked to achieve this, how many sleepless nights I've spent. It's not fair when people come from outside and comment on what you did. After working towards this goal for 15 years, you can't take the moment lightly," he said after being fined only R1000 (reduced from 25 percent of his winnings of R2.1 lakh).
However, the act is not a one off incident in this otherwise calm sport. China's world champion Zhang Jike went to the extreme, pulling off a Djokovic-like stunt and impressing fans with his passion during the World Championships last year. "I don't know what went through the referee's mind then when he fined me. Had I behaved badly if I'd lost, I would've understood," Amalraj added.
However, the young paddler does not believe in reflecting on the past. "My aim is to move up in world rankings." Ranked 246th, he will be playing in the 20th Asian Table Tennis Championships in Macau from February 23 to March 1, and the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Dortmund from March 25 to April 1. "I will be training for it in Germany and Austria," he said. But the most important tournament on his schedule is the pre-Olympic qualifier in Hong Kong from April 20. "I will try my best to qualify for London. It's not going to easy but I will give it my all."