Rwanda Table Tennis Federation in conjunction with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) hosted an international table tennis tournament for under 18 players that ended in Kigali on 2ndDecember 2018. Apart from the splendid performance by Rwandese table tennis players, we came across a rising young and quiet Tanzanian star, Alisa Fayaz Bhojani, who just turned 13, was the captain of the Tanzanian team squad and is the reigning under 18 Tanzanian champion.
In the team events, Tanzania were 3rd position bronze. In the girls open events, Alisa managed to reach the quarter finals playing a delicate mix of offensive and defensive table tennis. Coached by Tanzanian Issa Mtalaso, Alisa performed wonders in the open events playing players much older her age and yet ranking in the top 8. To reach the top 8, Alisa played the league matches, before playing the round of 16 in which she beat a Ugandan player before bowing out to a Rwandese player in the quarter finals. Alisa was also the joint awardee of the best upcoming player of the tournament.
“Her ability to slow down the game and frustrate opponents is her main strength,” said her coach Issa Mtalaso, a veteran of Tanzanian table tennis. “She played very well and against girls much older,” he added and stated that she now needs to train even harder.
On the sidelines, we managed to speak to Alisa about table tennis, her interests and studies. Some excerpts from the Tanzanian captain below:
Q: How long have you been playing table tennis for?
Alisa: I started about 7 years ago and have been training since.
Q: How often do you train?
Alisa: I train about 4 times a week as I am very busy in school as well, plus I play football, throwball, badminton and also swim. I love sports!
Q: How did you find the tournament in Kigali?
Alisa: The tournament was very tough. There are some great players and they were better than me! I did my best. On day one, I won 3 singles but also lost 2 singles as I was very tired at the end of the day. However, on the girls singles open day, I performed well and lost in the quarter finals 3 straight but all the sets were very close. Infact, I had a lead in 2 of the sets but gave up the lead and lost. When I lose, I admit my loss and don’t give reasons. My friend from Rwanda played better and she deserved to win the game.
Q: Did you like Kigali?
Alisa: This is the first time I have visited Kigali. It is very hilly, clean and green. The people I met are all so nice, just like our people in Tanzania who are great. I must say that I also like my city Dar es Salaam, which is hot, but it is fun in Dar with lots to do.
Q: Do you go to school in Dar es Salaam?
Alisa: Yes yes. I go to the International School of Tanganyika (IST) in Dar es Salaam. I am in grade 8 at the moment.
Q: Do you intend to play professionally in the future?
Alisa: I don’t think so. I am quite focused on my studies and want to become a neurosurgeon when I grow up.
Q: From table tennis to neurosurgery! Why medicine?
Alisa: I have developed a love for medicine. Both my grandfathers have health issues, as does my grandmother. My grandmother from my mums side recently suffered a stroke, and my dad and mum made sure that I was with the whole family in hospital engaging with the neurosurgeon on her treatment plan. Unfortunately she recently passed away and ever since her death it is my desire to become a neurosurgeon. I also found out that there are very few neurosurgeons in Tanzania and I want to train and come back serve my country.
Q: What are your favorite subjects in school?
Alisa: I am not sure if this article is being published and I don’t want to offend any of my teachers, all of whom are great! Anyways, I think science, math and, of course, PE are my favorites! I also read the newspaper and watch the news.
Q: You are a very patriotic Tanzanian.
Alisa: Yes absolutely. If you noticed, I wore nothing but my Tanzanian shirt when I was here. Even on the last day, when I had run out of t shirts, I still wore my Tanzanian shirt.
Q: Now back to table tennis. How do you see yourself in the years to come?
Alisa: If I train hard, I believe I can do very well. I will have to however balance between school and sports. Perhaps I am playing too many sports. But this is not the first time I’m playing competitive tournaments. In the East and Central African Hopes tournament in Kenya I came runners up narrowly losing to a Kenyan player. In the Tanzanian National Championships, I am the current under 18 defending champion and seed 3 in seniors! I also recently played the Tanzanian Open (Seniors) category.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
Alisa: I encourage fellow girls to play, and above all, to study. All play and no study won’t help!
Q: We welcome you and your family to Kigali again
Alisa: We will certainly come again. My mum and sister are back in Dar, and I am here with my dad.
Q: Thank you for your time
Alisa: Thank you.