Table Tennis veteran Sharath Kamal still hungry for more  | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Table Tennis veteran Sharath Kamal still hungry for more 

After three Olympic appearances and quite a handful of accolades in a career spanning almost a decade and a half, retirement isn’t yet among Achanta Sharath Kamal’s immediate future plans

other sports Updated: Jun 23, 2017 18:09 IST
Bhargab Sarmah 
At the recently-held World Table Tennis Championship in Dusseldorf, Sharath Kamal made an impressive run into the Round of 32, before falling in a tight encounter to China’s Lin Gaoyuan.
At the recently-held World Table Tennis Championship in Dusseldorf, Sharath Kamal made an impressive run into the Round of 32, before falling in a tight encounter to China’s Lin Gaoyuan.(Getty Images)

India’s most successful male table tennis professional in history, Achanta Sharath Kamal has enjoyed a long career in the international circuit. About to complete 35 years of age in July, it is safe to presume that the paddler from Tamil Nadu is approaching the final few years of his playing career.

However, after three Olympic appearances and quite a handful of accolades in a career spanning almost a decade and a half, retirement isn’t yet among Sharath Kamal’s immediate future plans.

(Read | 2018 Commonwealth Games: India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal eyes table tennis gold

The top-ranked Indian player had seen his form tail off after a spate of injuries, but successfully came back to qualify for the Rio Olympics. At the recently-held World Table Tennis Championship in Dusseldorf, he made an impressive run into the Round of 32, before falling in a tight encounter to China’s Lin Gaoyuan.

“It was a good tournament for me. I had beaten the world no. 27 and 34 in a practice event prior to the championship. I couldn’t keep it tight in the round of 32 match, but nevertheless, I did well. The next target is to be in the top 30 of the world rankings,” said Kamal, now placed 44th in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rankings.

(Read | Sharath Kamal picked by RP-SG Mavericks in Ultimate Table Tennis player draft

“As far as retirement in concerned, I will decide on it year-by year. We will have the Commonwealth Games and the team World Championships next year, so I will see after that. I also have the 2020 Olympics at the back of my mind, but I would like to plan everything out year after year,” he added.

Having played in European leagues, most recently in Germany, Kamal says the biggest advantage for players in Europe is the level of exposure.

“The basic difference is there are a lot of top level players playing the league there. We are always in competition mode, always preparing for matches. The exposure over there is huge.”

League expansion key

Sharath Kamal will be participating in Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), the inaugural edition of India’s domestic league, and he feels it could be a game-changer is sustained and expanded in coming years.

(Read | Achanta Sharath Kamal bows out as Indian challenge ends at table tennis Worlds

“We have a three-week league; hopefully, it will run for a longer duration in future. Now that the top players and coaches are here, you will get access to knowledge. It will be a good learning experience for the young players,” he explained.

Having made his Olympic debut at the 2004 Games in Athens, Sharath Kamal is well-acquainted to the experience of playing at the quadrennial event. With table tennis rarely being in the media glare, do players feel undue pressure at the sudden attention every four years?

“On one side, I would say yes. Because suddenly, there is attention on you. You are not used to it. You have people asking you about your medal chances, now and then, even though you are quite happy to have just qualified.

“On the other hand, it also helps you aim higher. If people are asking you about medals, you will start thinking about medals and won’t be just happy with qualification. So there are two sides to it. I think the coaches and the federations should guide the players, help them prepare mentally,” he opined.

Saying greater media coverage is crucial for the growth of the sport, the Indian table tennis great said the country can make some serious progress in coming years, but patience will be key.

“China, at the moment, are at the top of the ladder in table tennis. We have come from down below and are somewhere in the middle of it at the moment. There’s still a long way to go, but if we can continue the current work, if the league grows and sustains over a long period of time, not just 1-2 years, then we will get there,” he concluded.