Indian-origin youngster Prithika Pavade is France’s top table tennis contender in the Paris Olympics 2024. One aspect of the upcoming 2024 Olympics that offers Prithika Pavade some comfort is that the venue for the table tennis tournament in Paris, South Paris Arena, is a half-hour drive from her club, Saint-Denis US 93 Tennis de Table, and training centre INSEP. Aside from that, athletes perform best at home in familiar surroundings, giving Pavade the opportunity of a lifetime.
France’s second-highest-ranked female table tennis player is of Indian descent, with roots in Pondicherry. She is rated 32 in the world in singles. Pavade is ranked 15 in women’s doubles with Camille Lutz and 25 in mixed doubles with Simon Gauzy, giving her a good chance of winning a medal. Furthermore, the team event is another category where she might compete for a podium finish alongside France.
The 19-year-old would already be competing in her second Olympics, having fallen in the qualifying rounds for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, making her one of table tennis’s brightest chances outside of China’s dominance.
“I am very excited about it (the Olympics in Paris), because it is the biggest event in almost every sport,” Pavade remarked at the WTT Star Contender in Goa, where she lost in the second round of singles in late January. “I realise that our generation is really fortunate to have the Olympics at home. This is crazy because it’s also quite close to where I live, where my parents live, my first school, where I started playing, and my current club.
“When it comes, I’ll be nervous, but the most important thing for me is to enjoy the moment and try to perform well,” said Pavade, who spoke English with a heavy French accent.
The left-hander began riding TT after her father, who had moved to France from Pondicherry in 2003, a year before she was born, introduced her to the sport as a way to stay in shape. She was about six or seven years old and went to a gymnasium that was a two-minute walk from their flat. She fell in love with the sport.
Within a year and a half, she vaguely recalls beginning to beat her father, who may or may not have been harmed by the student outperforming the teacher. “He never told me, but I believe yes. It’s normal, I mean, for him to feel awful; he also enjoyed the competition,” she remarked, chuckling. “But he was always trying to push me to be a better person and athlete. So he was definitely thrilled for me.”
Competition after competition, she aspired to something more. By the age of nine, she had won the French Championships in the under-12 category, followed by the French Cadet Championship at the age of twelve, establishing her as one of the club’s future Olympic hopefuls.
“When I was 11–12 years old, I realised that maybe I might perform well in this sport. But the choice to pursue a career in the sport did not come all at once; it happened gradually. But in the end, I’m pleased with this decision,” stated the left-handed golfer.
Pavade, France’s second-highest-ranked singles female player (behind Jia Nan Yuan at No. 19), still needs to qualify for the Olympics in the mixed doubles, where she is partnered with Felix Lebrun, the Goa singles champion. Last year, the couple reached the mixed doubles final at the WTT Contender event in Antalya, and she also advanced to the women’s doubles final (with Lutz) at the WTT Contender in Aman.
“We’re hoping to qualify for this event (Paris). We have two teams: Alexis (Lebrun)-Yuan and Felix and me. So we have five months to try to qualify, and we’ll see which pair is higher ranked and produces better outcomes in the coming months.
She balances her university studies, including science in the first year of college, thanks to the French system that encourages athletes while allowing for academic flexibility. “I cannot study like a normal person,” she told me, “but still, for me, it’s important to do something other than sport.” She also enjoys being lazy, hanging out with pals, and binge-watching OTT shows.
She hopes to have a lengthy career and win the sport’s most prestigious titles, such as the European Championships, World Championships, and Olympics. “I want to be able to do something great, to be one of the best players in history,” Pavade was quoted as saying.