From Their Illinois Basement To The World, Brothers Sid And Nandan Naresh Are Rising Stars In Table Tennis
by Shawn Smith
Whether they’re in the basement of their family home or halfway across the world from each other, U.S. table tennis players Sid and Nandan Naresh have a bond that can’t be broken. Now, as they reunite this week for the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 in Santiago, Chile, the brothers each hope to capture medals for Team USA.
Sid, 19, and Nandan, 16, were first introduced to table tennis through their father, who had played recreationally while living in India. After moving to the U.S. for his master’s degree, their father started playing even more, and by the time Sid and Nandan were kids, their family home in Naperville, Illinois, had a table in the basement.
It was there in the basement that Sid would play table tennis with his dad. Sid was 7 years old when he started, and his potential quickly showed. By the time he was 10, he was training five to six times per week with a coach. At 12, he made the U13 national team, and he has been progressing through the age groups ever since.
Those basement sessions left an impression on Sid’s younger brother.
“I used to see my brother and my dad play all the time,” Nandan recalled, “and for me, that was very fun to watch, and I really wanted to start playing.”
So Nandan began training as well and eventually joined the national team at age 10. It was around that same time that the two young table tennis players endeared themselves to a national audience thanks to TV appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Little Big Shots.”
While their training has gotten much more serious in the years since then, the Naresh brothers had a chance to return to their roots during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With everything shut down and competitions canceled, the only way for Sid and Nandan to train was by playing against each other on the table in the basement of their parents’ Naperville home.
“Always having each other to constantly play against and train with has been really good,” Sid said, “especially in 2020-2021 when a lot of clubs were closed. When others couldn’t really train because their clubs were closed or the training centers weren’t open, we could always go down to our basement and play.”
Not only were those sessions advantageous for helping the brothers keep their skills sharp, but they also brought the two closer together.
“Because of the flexibility of training and with online school, oftentimes we’d end up training very late,” Sid recalled. “A lot of times I remember we’d be training until 11 p.m. or even midnight. And I remember those sessions were a lot of fun because we could take time and do more of the creative things instead of doing what our structured training normally would be. Those memories from playing in our basement really stand out to me.”
That close relationship persists, even though the brothers are no longer in close proximity to one another.
After graduating from high school in May 2022, Sid delayed his admission to the University of California, Berkeley, for two years to focus on his training. He’s currently based in Saarbrucken, Germany, where he’s competing professionally in a German table tennis league for the second season in a row.
As for Nandan, he recently moved out to California to train at 888 Table Tennis Center. The high school junior currently balances online classes with training two to three times a day.
The pair regularly keeps in touch, texting each other about their matches and checking in with each other during tournaments. They mostly cross paths whenever they happen to compete at the same event, which means that their next reunion will come at the Pan American Games.
“Even though we’re very competitive on the table when we play against each other in big tournaments, we’re pretty close (off the table),” Sid said. “And even though now we’re not living together anymore, we still stay in touch. And when we see each other at tournaments, we have a lot of fun, and normally it’s a really good time.”
Table tennis action at the Pan Am Games begins on Sunday. Nandan will compete in singles, doubles and the team event, while Sid will be competing in just the team event. (Because of their age difference, Nandan and Sid typically play with other partners when they play doubles, although they did win a bronze medal playing together at the 2022 Pan American Youth Championships.)
Nandan, winner of the 2023 U.S. Adult National Team Trials and silver medalist at the 2023 Pan American U19 Championships, hopes to leave Santiago with some hardware despite tough competition from the Brazilian players.
“I want to medal in one of my three events — that’s the goal,” he said. “If I can come home with a medal, that would really be great for me.”
Similarly, Sid — who fell to his brother in the semifinals at the Pan American U19 Championships — has his eyes on a medal in the team event.
“In the Pan Am Championships, as a team we lost in the quarterfinals,” he said. “Here at the Pan Am Games, we’re playing with the same team — me, Nandan and Jishan (Liang) — and this time, a bronze medal or even a silver would be incredible.”
After the Pan Am Games, the Naresh brothers will be reunited at November’s youth world championships in Slovenia and December’s mixed team world cup in China. That all leads up to a pivotal U.S. World Championship Team Trials in January. That event will determine which athletes go to South Korea for the world championships, an event at which the U.S. has their next opportunity to qualify a men’s team for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Nandan and Sid acknowledge that Olympic qualification will be difficult but not out of the question next year. The Olympic Games LA 2028 may be a more realistic goal, as the U.S. will have automatic spots in every event, and their ages make it likely that they’ll still be in the national team mix at that time.
That said, the brothers aren’t putting too much pressure on themselves.
“I’m trying to just focus on my own game and see where it takes me instead of focusing on specific goals,” Nandan said. “I think if I do that, everything will fall into place.”