USA Table Tennis What's New Rajat Hubli - Interv...

Rajat Hubli - Interview

By Rahul Acharya | Dec. 07, 2015, 12 a.m. (ET)

Rajat Hubli (France)

28-year old Rajat Hubli, born in Belgaum, India, moved to the U.S. in May this year on an international assignment through work. Over the past 6 years, Rajat has lived in 3 continents, but his passion for table tennis has stayed with him. Before his move to Europe, Rajat played on a state team in India for several years. When Rajat moved to France in September 2009 to pursue a Master's degree in Computer Science, he joined the OAJLP Antibes club and thus, began his table tennis journey in Europe. Then, in May 2015, his employer sent him to Boston for an overseas assignment. Since then, Rajat has taken every opportunity to play tournaments across the U.S.

I first met Rajat this past May when he came to play the Westchester Open. We hit it off quite well. I even practiced with him before the tournament. Rajat came across as very friendly and humble. In fact, we have since become good friends. I had wanted to do this interview with him ever since I met him for the first time, but somehow it never happened. I finally got down to doing it when I recently saw him at the Joola North American Teams Championships in National Harbor.

I hope you enjoy getting to know Rajat. Enjoy!

Quick facts about Rajat Hubli:
Highest USATT rating 2550
ASPTT Romans Member - France - Division National 2 (2015 - Current)
SOKAH Hoboken Member - Belgium - Division National 1 (2014 - 2015)
AL Croix Rousse Lyon Member - France - Division National 2 (2014 - 2015)
OAJLP Tennis de Table Member - France - Division National 2 (2010 - 2014)

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Rajat Hubli
With Rajat Hubli
1. Congratulations on making it to the semifinals of the 2015 Joola NA Teams Championships. If I'm not mistaken, this was your first teams tournament in the U.S. How was the experience and share with us anything that you learned from it. 
Thank you very much! Indeed, it was a very good tournament for us as a team. Our best victory was in the quarterfinals. Allen Wang made me believe that he is amongst the best in America. Yes, it was my first teams tournament in the U.S. and probably the best tournament conditions wise. The Joola tables were very good; the balls were much better than other balls I have played with this year, and I have absolutely no complaints about the venue and the Hotel Gaylord. It was absolutely fantastic! All credit should go to Joola organizers for a fantastic job. I will surely play this tournament next year as well. Surprisingly, I am less tired than I expected I would be. It was not an over exhausting tournament as people had warned me before.

2. Tell us how you got started with table tennis. 
I used to play cricket, like most Indians, back in the sub-continent. My dad introduced me to table tennis as cricket used to be off for 4-5 months in Mumbai due to the rainy season. My dad just wanted me to play it as a hobby, but fortunately for me, I got better at it. I was probably 11 when I started playing table tennis. I thank my dad for introducing me to it.

3. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Butterfly Viscaria
Forehand rubber: Tibhar Genius
Backhand rubber: Tibhar Genius
I highly recommend players to try Tibhar Genius because it can generate a lot of spin and at the same time be cost effective compared to Tenergy.

4. Where do you currently train and how often?
I currently live in Boston, MA and train sometimes at Boston TTC in Medford and also at MABTTC in Waltham. I try to play at least once a week, which is still difficult considering I work as a Software Engineer. Sometimes, I also feel unlucky not to be in New York or Washington D.C. to train with high quality players. Currently, I play with 2200 players who are very good friends of mine.

5. What are your short-term and long-term goals with regards to table tennis?
My short-term goal would be to help my club, ASPTT Romans, reach the National 1 division in France. It is my new club in France, but I am already feeling connected with the Coach and the President. My long-term goal would be to have a world ranking in the top 300.

6. You've played table tennis in 3 different countries - India, France, and the U.S. Tell us about these three, I'm assuming, very different experiences. Is there one experience that you enjoyed/enjoy the most?
Table tennis in France is completely different from table tennis in the USA, which is kind of similar to table tennis in India. France has a structure in which the clubs are funded by the local government. So, for example, big halls, good tables, good facilities (flooring, showers, audience stands) are all a minimum in any given club. I have not been to a club in France that does not have that. After the difference between the clubs, comes down to a good structure, good coaches, good players, and player funding. Usually all players in the first team of the club are paid some remuneration or other educational support.

Table tennis in America and in India as well is more of a private sport with private clubs that have coaches paid privately on an hourly basis. This kind of structure will always lose good players due to the pursuit of higher education or due to financial reasons or just the lack of motivation. Privately owned clubs also makes table tennis a business rather than a sport.

Clearly, my favorite has been my experience in France where I played leagues for 5 years and I am still engaged with my club, ASPTT Romans. I see the French table tennis structure everywhere in Europe, for example, in Belgium (where I played for a year) and in Germany too.

7. Tell us about your most memorable match. 
Honestly, I do not really have a memorable match, which is quite unfortunate because I don't think about any match in particular to be happy. My game is not very extravagant I would say. I am a very safe player, so I don't take many risks. A safe player is someone who usually beats players below his level and loses to better players. My performance is like a stable line and not really a curve with peaks and bottoms, making me a very reliable player for teams and all clubs I have played. Clubs like security and hate individual stars. However, I have a few memorable tournaments for example, the 2015 Badger Open, the 2015 Westchester May Open 2015, and the recent 2015 Joola NA Teams Championships, etc.

8. What was the toughest match that you have ever played? 
There are some kinds of players I can probably never win against. The Chinese player from NYISC Guangdong at the Joola Teams didn't even let me make 11 points in 3 games against him. Chen Ruichao is also very strong. Antoine Hachard, the young Frenchman, also crushed me very bad. When I play these guys, sometimes I wonder if I really should continue playing table tennis. And, then I realize that table tennis is a very technical game that requires the mind to stay calm always. There are some players who you are always going to lose to unless you change the techniques of your game completely, which is very difficult to do.

9. Who is your favorite international table tennis player, from past or present? Why?
Zhang Jike is someone I admire a lot. I have been watching his game closely and am quite amazed by how he changes his technique and style. Tiago Apolonia and Michael Maze would be my European favorites and the players who I play like. Segun Toriola is someone who will always be my favorite because of what he has achieved over the 2 decades of table tennis that he has played. And of course, Achanta Sharath Kamal. Having known him personally, what a player and what a person he is! Hats off to him!

10. Honors, titles, and awards that you have won in table tennis.
I prefer to forget my titles and awards. Doing so keeps me fresh and motivates me to keep playing and competing. More than honors and titles, I try to enjoy the sport, play with a good sportsman spirit, and make as many friends as possible in the table tennis circuit.

11. China dominates the table tennis scene currently. Do you think Europe will be able to match up to those standards? If so, what will it take?
European junior structure is coming up slowly, but steadily. The French junior teams have been European champions for almost the last 8-10 years I would say. Sweden is coming back to where it was before. Germany was always there, and somehow they produce a top 10 ranked player every 5 years. Portugal is doing great as well. Two rising European juniors, Anton Kallberg and Alexandre Cassin, are players to watch in the future.

The main challenge in France was and still is to keep the young players between 20-25 to stay motivated to perform well in the senior category. I think this remains a challenge everywhere, including in the USA, because people start quitting the sport once they realize they cannot sustain.
However, coming back to the question, I think no, Europe won't be able to compete with China at least for another 10 years. Who knows what happens after that. For example, the number of 2600 level players in China would be roughly 10,000 compared to 1,000 in Europe and 100 in the USA. The numbers just won't match or be close in the 10 next years.

12. What do you like to do when you are not playing table tennis?
I am a big time traveler. I have traveled to more than 25 countries. I try to play table tennis tournaments everywhere in North America and explore places and cities. I am also a food enthusiast  and I love all type of cuisines. 

13. Anything else that you would like to add?
I would like to thank my first coaches, Mahendra Mohite and Jagannath Mohite, for having taught me the basics very well, Kamlesh Mehta who was always inspirational as coach when I played under him, OAJLP Tennis de Table of France for whom I played for 4 years, and of course, my mom for having supported me to play table tennis when everyone else around wanted me to stop :-) Last but not the least, thanks to you Rahul and your family. I feel always very homely and nice when I speak to your mom and dad. They are such wonderful people.

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Rajat, thanks for your time, and good luck to you and the ASPTT Romans for the upcoming league season!