School girl Noura Al Maazmi also happens to be UAE Women’s No. 1 table tennis star. How does a 17-year-old balance studies to be an engineer with an Olympic dream? Vision finds out ahead of the Nakheel Asian Cup...
Visitors arriving for meetings at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) recently may have been surprised to encounter suited executives trying their hand at trick shots on table tennis tables set up in a restaurant forecourt.
The event was one of a series of free activities in Dubai organised to mark World Table Tennis Day, including a tournament for budding amateurs and a corporate challenge event which attracted hundreds of participants.
And the table tennis mania doesn't stop there. At the end of April, the emirate will welcome the world’s elite players, including London 2012 gold medallist Zhang Jike, and UAE No.1 Noura Al Maazmi for the fiercely contested Nakheel Asian Cup 2016.
Vision talked to Noura about the last ranking tournament before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Here's what she said...
What inspired you to start playing the sport?
My parents were keen that I attend camps in my school holidays. At one of the camps they had table tennis. The coach there was really interesting and thought that I had a skill I could improve on. At first, I wasn’t very excited about it, but after I realized I was eager to learn more about table tennis and I actually really like the game.
Can you remember your first win?
I remember it was in Bahrain. It was my first ACC tournament. It was against Oman. That was the first game that I actually won.
What is your favourite thing about playing?
It’s very stress-relieving. You have a lot of fun when you are playing because table tennis is not just about playing. In my opinion, once you start playing this sport you will never stop. It will last you a lifetime.
In the UAE, we don’t yet have a very big group of table tennis players. We play at Sharjah Ladies club. It’s the only club in UAE with a female facility. In my opinion, it would be great to see more women and more clubs playing table tennis so we can have a stronger national league and that would give us a higher standard for when we play internationally.
What is your day-to-day training schedule like?
I practice five days a week, for two hours a day. That’s just table tennis. I do other things to help me improve as well.
I turn up an hour early and do fitness training. Carry weights, some running and cardiovascular training. Table tennis is a very demanding physical sport. It’s great because it demands both brain skills and body movements. I believe it’s very important in this game to be very smart in a way. It’s different to any other game.
How much time do you spend on tactical and psychological training?
I would say it’s split 50/50. If I’m in a bad mood on the day of a tournament, for example, then I won’t perform my best. I think you should be mentally and physically prepared for every tournament if you are to get in the medals.
How do you balance the demands of school and playing table tennis?
In the morning I have school, then I try to get homework out of the way as soon as I can and then I go to practise for the evening. Shower, sleep, repeat.
Is it a busy school year for you?
Yes. In fact, I didn’t practise at all last week because I had exams. But I always try to practise as much as I can so not to lose my sharpness. You know, when you stop – even for a week – you notice a little slip in standards. This is hard, of course, because table tennis is not a very big game in the UAE, like football, and you can’t rely on it for a living unfortunately. But, for me, study comes first and then table tennis comes very closely behind.
If you don’t become a table tennis superstar, what would you like to be?
I would like to be an engineer, but I’m just hoping to graduate first.
It would be great to see more women and more clubs playing table tennis so we can have a stronger national league
You are the No.1 female player in the UAE. What’s it like to be at the forefront of the table tennis scene?
We’ve been very privileged actually. We were just a couple of girls trying to practice and aiming for something in the future. The Federation have been helpful to us and the Sharjah Ladies Club have helped us a lot to improve our standards.
What is your biggest ambition in the sport, and in your life? Do you see yourself in the Olympics one day?
For me, as I imagine for every other player, the Olympics is a dream. My goals right now are to get a gold GCC medal. Later a gold Arab medal. I have a silver, but now I’m aiming for gold as every other player is. I’m actually working hard for that right now. That will hopefully give me the skills and opportunity to take part at the Olympics. That would be a dream come true.
Do you have any icons that you admire?
The Chinese table tennis team in general. They win all the gold medals and have a very good style of playing. The players are also very humble in a way. I look up to that.
Do you see yourself as a role model for other young table tennis players in Dubai? What would your advice be to them?
People are always trying to motivate me, especially my family. No matter whatever happens. My parents have been very supportive . At 17, I’m still learning and rising, so when people come up to talk to me I get very excited still. I hopefully wish to be better in future and reach higher levels.
What secrets do you tell your fans? A killer backhand? How to master the smash?
All of the secrets are known. Even the Chinese table tennis team don’t have any secret skills. Just to have good practice. That’s the only way to improve.
Looking ahead to the Nakheel Asian Cup, what are you hoping to achieve from that week?
I’m actually very honoured to play in such tournament. I’m honestly, just looking forward to being around other professionals and to absorb the experience of how they prepare for their matches. I’m really happy that Dubai actively hosts such tournaments as these and that we can get the opportunity to learn from the world’s best players. I’m really looking forward to it.