Kandy’s sports star Udaya Ranasinghe added another feather in his cap by winning the national singles crown for the fourth time at the Table Tennis National Championships recently, but the feat came with a lot of sweat, toil and heartache.
Naturally, he was elated because he set up a national record, surpassing the one shared previously by Lalith Priyantha and Thilina Piyadasa with three wins each. The Vidyartha College schoolboy is somewhat sad because he knows that now it’s high time he got opportunities to train and play abroad. “I have to get further training in a foreign country and play in professional tournaments. This is the only way I can raise my world ranking,” said Udaya whose world ranking is just over 500.
Udaya is small in age, but makes up for that with a lot of thinking and analyzing when he takes on players very much his senior. “I study a player during the first two sets in a game and read his weaknesses. I also use this time to observe whether my opponent has made any changes for the game against me. Then I play my natural game, which is with a win in mind,” he said.
This year’s nationals were not easy, largely because the authorities had a re-draw. Some players complained, but not Udaya. He believes whatever way you change the draw, you are still playing against players who have entered the tournament. Udaya said in an interview with Nation that the competition at the tournament was high and he felt the ‘heat’ till the quarter finals of the tournament concluded.
He met one of his old foes, Rohan Sirisena, in the quarter finals of the tournament. It was a match that he’ll never forget because he came from behind to win the match 4/3 after losing the first three sets. The match against Sirisena also brought him a lesson that’ll be etched in his mind forever. “I was down three sets and one of my mentors Nirmala Jayasinghe asked me to take a time out and told me that I should forget about establishing records and concentrate on winning the match at hand. It was only then that I started winning,” recalled Udaya who also added that Jayasinghe had reminded him not to forget that he was a national champion. He beat Sirisena and went on to down Dinesh Deshappriya and schoolmate Prasad de Silva in the semi finals and finals respectively.
He receives all the support from his school principal to pursue table tennis. The lad is released for training when there are top tournaments and this time around the Old Boys Association of the school helped him purchase two rubbers which were needed for the tournament. He thanked his two school coaches Buddhika Dikkumbura and Gayan Liyanage for the contributions made to his career. Unlike most of the talented players from Colombo, who have the services of a private coach apart from their school coach, Udaya has had to make do with the two coaches employed by the school.
Some years ago, he had the fortune of going to Switzerland for specialized training. That tour was made possible by Tamara Hewage and he was able to train under coaches Paavel Rehorate and Pedro Pelz. “I stayed with a Sri Lankan named Ranil Jayapathy who treated me like a member of his family. It was after this training that I started winning the nationals. My success has continued ever since,” he said. Udaya rates this visit to Switzerland as the best thing he has received through his involvement in table tennis.
He has been involved with the sport for the past 13 years with a lot of success here and abroad. He did his country proud by being the first Sri Lankan to win a gold medal in the boys’ singles at the South Asian Junior Championships which was hosted by India. “I need a one year resident training abroad. I have requested this from the TTASL, but they are yet to send me abroad for this type of training,” he said.
The sport of table tennis came under the spotlight at the Milo-Sponsored Sri Lanka Schools Colours Nite during the past two years paddlers Erandi Warusavithana and Udaya himself won this prestigious title in 2015 and 2016 respectively. But Udaya feels table tennis in Sri Lanka should receive more media attention. “In countries like India, table tennis gets a good amount of television time in comparison to sports like cricket and rugby. If a sport is popular, then sponsors are naturally attracted,” he opined.
Udaya can be best described as a person who must be protected as a national asset from a sports perspective. It doesn’t come as a surprise when he says that he doesn’t need a sponsor to continue in the game. “I need a sponsor to go abroad for training and make my dream of contesting the Olympics come true,” he said.