Mizoram’s Jeho Puingheta fell to the ground Nadal style after beating West Bengal’s Ankur Bhattacharjee in the Khelo India 2021 Youth Games Boys’ Table Tennis Final. He was left lying on the ground for a few minutes before rising to greet the cheers of the audience.
Jeho was exhausted, not physically but mentally after a grueling 9-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9 game. It was a sweet tactical victory though, with his defensive play effectively countering Ankur’s flourishing attacking play. He patiently kept the ball in play until he got an opening, completing the kill with his forehand top spins.
Ankur simply ran out of steam after the first three sets, losing the fight in his head first, then at the table. “The reaction was more relief because the points were long and hard,” conceded Jeho, after winning the state’s second gold medal after their boy’s football triumph.
Like any other Mizo child, Jeho was also a football fan and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father who played at the local club level. But the father, who works as a nurse in a hospital, wanted him to take up individual sport. The baby-faced youngster opted for table tennis after first trying his hand at badminton.
As a young boy, Jeho was an offensive paddler, but it was Chinese coach Liu Zheng Fang of the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy who converted him to a defensive player. “My backhand was very weak and it affected my overall results. So, a year after joining the academy in 2013, the Chinese coach asked me to focus on a more defensive style.
He then took the help of another defensive-minded Mizoram senior table tennis player, Lalrimpuia, to understand the nuances of this style and what he needed to do to succeed. “Playing defensively is all about being patient. It helps me to be able to launch an attack quickly when the opportunity arises. But it’s also very physically demanding and I have to work a lot harder on that aspect during my training. said Jeho, who has now moved his base to Pinnacle Table Tennis Academy in Gurugram after leaving PSPB Academy.
A fan of South Korea’s Joo Sae-Hyuk, a two-time Asian Games bronze medalist in men’s singles, Jeho is keen to break into the senior men’s team in the next few years and will focus on the national ranking matches organized by the Table. Tennis Federation of India in the second half of the year. But for now, the little youngster was happy to enjoy all the adulation from the many state fans who came to cheer him on at Tau Devi Lal Stadium.