Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra speed switch boosts Tokyo Olympics medal hope
- The 38-year-old heads into his fourth Olympics and his young teammate will be taking part in her second Games
Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra make for an exciting mixed doubles table tennis pair for the Tokyo Olympics. They showed skills and mental toughness to stun Korea’s world No. 5 pair of Lee Sang-su and Jeon Ji-hee in the final of the qualification tournament in Doha to book their Tokyo Olympics spot.
They showed spark at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where they won bronze.
The seasoned Sharath says they complement each other due to their individual playing style. The different speeds they like to play can be difficult for their opponents to pick , he says.
“Manika slows down the game very well because of her style of play. I can take it up to the highest speed. So, she brings it to very low speed and from there I take it to high speed. That change in speed is what put opponents into difficulty,” says Sharath.
The strategy worked against the top Korean pair. Sharath and Manika lost the first two games but fought back to win the match 4-2.
“The coach kept telling us, “try and get them into rallies”. We were making a lot of mistakes as we were trying to finish the points early. Once we started playing long rallies, the change in speed that we both have made the difference,” he says.
Beating a top pair in a pressure situation in Doha last month has given Sharath and Manika a lot of confidence building up to the Tokyo Olympics.
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“Qualifying was very special. That was our only chance to qualify because we could not have qualified through world rankings. There were two teams ahead of us in the top 16. We were nervous before the matches. But we came into the tournament in the right mental and physical shape. We didn’t do really well in the first tournament but we spent some more time in the hall practicing some tactical stuff.”
Sharath, the world No. 32 in singles, has also qualified for the individual competition. He will be taking part in his fourth Olympics. He feels the mixed team competition gives India a realistic chance to bag a medal in table tennis. “In a draw of 16, we are just three matches away from a medal,” says the 38-year-old.
Both are looking to train together but the Covid situation in the country has forced those plans to be put on hold.
“We are in talks about whether I should go to Pune and train. But the situation is bad in Maharashtra, so we have to wait for some time.”
In May, Sharath wants to go to China for two WTT (World Table Tennis) tournaments and in June there are plans to invite some foreign players to India for training.
“It all depends on the Covid situation.”