Bengaluru, May 3: When the University of Mumbai stepped out to play the Men's Team Table Tennis Final against SRM University on Monday at the Khelo India University Games 2021, there was a big surprise in store. The captain of the Mumbai university team, Mandar Hardikar, decided to miss out on the summit clash, and instead, Chinmaya Somaiya, Deepit Patil, and Parthav Kelkar were picked to start. Hardikar, who had been a key player for the University of Mumbai, in the Group Stage game against the SRM University a couple of days ago, was on the sidelines cheering on his team.

"It was a strategical decision we made based on our results in the tournaments so far, and which player has performed better against which player," Hardikar said after his team picked up a 3-0 win in the final to claim the gold medal in the Men's Team Table Tennis event at KIUG 2021. Currently, Hardikar plays in the European League for the Croatian club, STK Starr, and has been a regular feature in the Champions League. He has also played for India at the U-19 level in the China Open in 2019 and has attended several India camps throughout his career. His teammate Deepit Patil, has also represented India at the SAF Games at the U-21 level. Hardikar believes that the international experience really helped their team in the Final against a very strong SRM University team. Khelo India University Games 2021: Jain University Clinch Championship, Siva Sridhar Reigns Supreme.

"With our combined international experience, we have an idea of how to deal with pressure games. It helped us figure out the best strategy for going into this match, and our players really applied themselves well on the table," he said. Hailing from the Malad area of Mumbai, Mandar Initially started taking coaching in cricket, much like most Mumbaikars. When he was 9-year-old, he stumbled upon a session of table tennis coaching that was being given to kids at a place nearby his school, and he developed an interest to switch his cricket bat with a paddle.

"I found table tennis to be quite a fast sport. Everyone plays cricket in Mumbai, so I also wanted to be different. Also, coaching in cricket was quite expensive," Hardikar said, explaining his reasons for the switch in his sporting journey. "TT was a growing sport, so I adapted to it quickly. I watched my paternal aunt play TT, and she was doing really well, so it motivated me as well," he added. Sports was a common factor among most family members in his family, so convincing his parents to pursue the sport was not a difficult task for him. "They said you should keep studying side-by-side but really motivated me to play," he said.

Hardikar, whose father works as a tax consultant, and his mother works in the BMC, received a lot of financial and motivational support from his parents in the early stages of his career. "My parents said that even if we have to spend, it will help us in the long run. They invested a lot in me at that stage," he said. Now, with an eye to winning an Olympic medal for India in Table Tennis, Hardikar believes Khelo India University Games gave him great experience and learnings for a World-level event.


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on May 03, 2022 06:47 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website