She is just 17-years-old and will be flying the UAE flag at this month’s Table Tennis Asian Cup, which will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from April 28-30.
Noura Al Maazmi took up the sport professionally five years ago and is now a key figure in the Sharjah Ladies Club squad as well as the UAE national team. Initially a chess player, Al Maazmi switched to table tennis and has never looked back. Inspired by the Chinese players, who have dominated the sport for decades, the Emirati teenager is looking forward to rubbing shoulders with them at the upcoming Asian Cup.
Sport360 caught up with Al Maazmi to find out more about her table tennis journey.
How did you start playing table tennis, what attracted you to the sport?
Before I started playing table tennis, I was in the UAE’s chess national team. I loved the game but it wasn’t really me, I really wanted a game that challenged me both physically and mentally. My parents were always keen for me to participate in camps during school vacations and at one of the camps there was table tennis – this is where I first encountered the game which was at Sharjah Ladies Club.
When and why did you decide on playing table tennis professionally?
I’ve been playing table tennis professionally for approximately five years now. Once I was introduced to it, I immediately enjoyed the game and was eager to learn more.
My first coach, coach Lee, at the club, saw that I had the potential to reach a certain level in the sport. Coach Lee is from China, a country really leading in table tennis and the fact that she believed in me, and in what I could achieve in the future, really spurred me on to take table tennis to the next level.
What are your greatest achievements so far in the sport?
I won my first gold medal at the Ramadan Tournament that took place in Sharjah Ladies Club in the Under-18 category in 2015. I’ve also won the team silver medal and doubles bronze medal at the 2013 Asian Arab University Table Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi, and silver and bronze medals at the GCC Games in 2013 in the UAE. Last year I won bronze at the 2015 Arab Women Sports Tournament in my home city of Sharjah which was a great moment on home ground.
If you had to pick one highlight so far in your career, what would it be?
Participating in the 2013 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships in Paris was a highlight in terms of exposure to international players. However, in terms of my personal achievements, the greatest has been the GCC tournament in 2013.
How do you think we can get more Emirati girls taking part in sport?
Starting with young kids at school is crucial. You have to get kids hooked on sport from a young age. Also, taking table tennis as example, we don’t have that many clubs that offer the sport for women here in the UAE.
In my opinion, if we had more clubs, not only would we have a stronger league in the country, but also our national team would be stronger when we face competition abroad.
Has your family always been supportive of you doing sport?
My family has always been very supportive of me playing table tennis. Unfortunately, in the UAE, not many families are very supportive of females taking part in sport. But Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak has always been keen on getting UAE women to participate in everything. You can see now that there are high executive positions held by Emirati women. Fortunately, table tennis is a classy sport and you can compete while wearing conservative clothes.
What are some of the physical demands of playing table tennis?
Table Tennis demands a 50-50 mix of brain skills and body movement. Practicing for prolonged periods of time, at least two hours continuously, is important for maintaining focus at the table during competitions.
When preparing for a tournament I practice table tennis five days a week for two hours at a time, and then do fitness training on top of this.
What is your fitness regimen like?
Fitness is very important in order to play table tennis at a high level, and this is what I am currently focusing on in particular. I do a mix of cardio, such as running and cycling. Skipping is actually a great cardio workout which I do often as part of my fitness routine. I also mix heavy weight training in with the cardio to improve my strength.
What is an interesting fact that people are unaware of about table tennis?
I think many people will be surprised at how exciting table tennis can be to watch at a professional level. With table tennis, there are many different components which you are managing in a very small space and as I said it is very much about the brain as well as body movements.
The mix of speed, power, control and the ability to anticipate the next move with speed is really challenging and I truly think once anyone starts table tennis they will not want to stop.
How do you feel about your upcoming participation in the Asian Cup?
I am very honoured to compete in such tournaments and glad to be representing my country at an international level.
I believe that playing with higher ranked players will help improve my own game.
Table tennis’ world No1, Liu Shiwen, is playing at the Asian Cup, along with other leading players and I am eager to meet them and learn more from them. I am of course a little nervous, as I’m sure all table tennis players are before each match, but I don’t believe I will let nerves get in the way of my game.
It’s certainly comforting to play in my own country, where I can prepare in my usual setting and stay in my own home.
How much training goes into preparing for a competition like this one?
I’m currently in my final year of school and have just finished my mid-term exams, which has made it challenging to maintain my usual practice levels. Now exams are out of the way, I am really focusing on my game and increasing my practice time to at least 10 hours a week, plus fitness training.
Do you have any hobbies? And what are your plans for the future?
I hope to become an engineer one day after I graduate from school. Of course I also plan to continue playing table tennis at a high level and balancing my studies with the sport.
In my spare time I also enjoy playing basketball and swimming. But at the moment table tennis takes over most of my time so there is not much space for other hobbies.