SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Livingston middle school student Oishik Mukherjee, who began playing table tennis (TT) at eight years old and earned his first state title at age 12, won his second consecutive New Jersey State Table Tennis Championship earlier this month while competing in the 91st NJ State Table Tennis Tournament at the NJ Table Tennis Club in Springfield.
The Heritage eighth grader—whose father, Shuvradeep, inspired his love for the sport—competed in the under 2000 USA Table Tennis (USATT) championship.
“My heart skipped a beat when the player/game chart came in and I saw that my first game was with someone who I often lost to,” said Mukherjee. “My dad reminded me what usually works and doesn’t, with this person. It helps to hear it again because my dad always has a ringside view of things. The trick is to make the opponent uncomfortable and not play how they want to play.”
Mukherjee defeated every opponent he faced during the recent tournament. When he entered the final round, Mukherjee came face to face with his first opponent for a second time—a man in his 40s who reminded spectators why the game of table tennis “is a great equalizer,” the teen said.
“We play players of all ages and styles,” he said. “So I would be playing the finals against a 40-plus-year-old gentleman who does not have my 13-year-old speed while I don’t have his 20 years of experience dealing with 13-year-olds.”
He described the final round as a “nail-biter,” where he was forced to utilize every skill in his tool kit and all the table tennis knowledge he has learned over the years to edge out his middle-aged opponent.
“In the end, my speed, skill at moving the ball around and changing the pace of the game, worked better,” said Mukherjee. “I tired him out by moving the ball in and out and frustrated him by not putting the ball where he would want it.”
Ketan Bhuptani, who organizes local table tennis tournaments, said he was immediately impressed with Mukherjee’s talent when he met the young player four years ago.
“Oishik is easily the most talented youngster playing the game, in my personal experience,” said Bhuptani. “He was a budding table tennis young player when I first met him [and] a much more advanced player in skills than other kids his age. He played in the young boys’ category and easily won the tournament.
“In the next year’s tournament, we put him in men’s category. He shined instantaneously in both singles and doubles category and won hearts with his ‘innocence-in-winning’ approach.”
Bhuptani explained that one of the reasons Mukherjee is able to thrive in this arena is because TT requires studying the opponent in order to learn his or her style and determine how to outplay him or her.
“Oishik is a thinker,” said Bhuptani. “He studies his games, he learns quickly from [mistakes] and comes back stronger the next game. True character of a champion, in my opinion.”
Mukherjee currently practices table tennis for five hours each week split between three training days: two one-on-one days and one group day. He also attends an advanced league on Fridays and participates in a regional tournament at least once per month.
In order to be successful in his sport, Mukherjee said he “makes a lot of sacrifices,” such as spending less time with friends, watching television and playing video games, in order to fill his weeks with “training, practice, league and tournaments.”
“It is worth all the stress, tension and drama,” he said. “I am a two-time NJ State Champion, and proudly so.”
Mukherjee’s father, who also played TT for many years, also expressed pride in the sport, stating that it is one of the few in existence that “burns a lot of calories; is contact-and injury-free; can be played indoors all year around; has huge worldwide appeal; is very good for hand-eye coordination, eye health and mental/cognitive skill development; can be played for a long time into life; and is drug-abuse free.”
In addition to being a champion TT player, Mukherjee also participates in Boy Scouts, maintains top grades at school, sings in the district chorus and also receives top scores in the stock market game.