We have a good chance of bagging Olympics medal in TT, says Kamal
India’s top paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal says players are faring well in singles despite the Indian team not having a coach since last 14 months.Updated: Jan 08, 2020 16:39 IST
PUNE Two weeks before the table tennis qualifying rounds for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 commence in Portugal, India’s top paddler, Achanta Sharath Kamal, was in town with the Pune-based Lakshya sports company.
The 37-year-old is currently ranked 33rd in the ITTF World Rankings and leaves for Dusseldorf, Germany, next week to begin his training for the Portugal qualifiers, which are scheduled to start from January 22.
Kamal is not short on confidence, or fitness, as he aims to participate in his fourth Olympics, after he represented India in the 2004, 2008 and 2016 games. The Padmashri awardee is the first Indian table tennis player to win the Senior National Championships nine times, breaking the previous record of eight wins, set by Kamlesh Mehta in 1989.
The Indian men’s TT team is without a coach? How difficult is it to train for an Olympic medal without a coach?
I cannot say anything, because there is no point talking about it. It will be a little difficult for our doubles and mixed doubles teams. In the singles’ category, all of us have our own coaches and physios, so individually, I do not see any problem. For the last 14 months, the Indian team does not have a coach. The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has not deemed anyone fit to be in that role yet, but they have been very supportive of the players. Even without a coach, the Indian team has performed well. Our nation is ranked ninth in the world.
Which players in the Indian contingent for the qualifiers are looking likely to win a place in the Tokyo Olympics?
Apart from myself, in the men’s category we have Sathiyan Gnanasekaran who is currently world number 30. Nineteen-year-old Manav Thakkar, who is the world number one in the under-21 category, will be joined by Harmeet Desai and Anthony Amalraj. The women’s contingent will be led by world number 61 Manika Batra. Joining her on the team will be Madhurika Patkar, Archana Kamath, and Suthirtha Mukherjee.
Four Olympics, no medals. Does that weigh on your mind?
We have a really good chance of bagging a medal this time. The sport has grown and evolved in the past ten years. Ten years ago, people would only care about cricket, but now they are aware of players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and many more who are winning medals on the biggest stages for India. Similarly, I believe the time has come for Indian paddlers to finally earn a medal at the grandest stage - the Olympics. We have good players this time and we have a lot of support from various sources, so the odds of bagging a medal in Tokyo are quite high this time.
How difficult are the qualifiers going to be for India?
We will be the fifth seed at the qualifiers, because we are ranked ninth and four teams who are above us (China, Japan, Germany and Brazil) have already qualified. We will not underestimate any game, but we will be facing teams ranked lower than us.
How does the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) compare to the Tischtennis-Bundesliga (German league)?
We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction. The main difference is that the Bundesliga goes on for 10 months, whereas UTT is done and dusted in a month. We need finance, support, proper infrastructure and exposure for players. Once we have all of that, we can surely stretch tournaments like UTT over a longer span and try being at par with the Bundesliga and other European leagues. UTT is providing exposure and throwing light on talents like Manika Batra and Manav Thakkar. The young players are lucky because around 17 years ago, I went to Europe in search of a league just like this.
What do you think about Pritha Vartikar and other promising young paddlers from Pune?
I have heard about Pritha and she is indeed one of the most impressive and promising youngsters out there. Pune has already blessed the table-tennis world with players like Sujay Ghorpade, Bhushan Thakur, Sunil Babras, Rajesh Shelar, Sudhesh Shelar and many more. Powered by these players, the team of Maharashtra was extremely strong. Apart from that, Manika Batra’s move from Delhi to Pune has also helped the enthusiasts to take the sport up. The youngsters will do well, but they need a proper structure around them in order for them to grow and turn into the state’s or even the country’s finest.