The Indian table tennis team has found its purple patch. The paddlers had a terrific outing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games by clinching a total of eight medals and continued their fine run by scripting history on Tuesday.
The men's team of Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Anthony Amalraj, Harmeet Desai and Manav Thakkar bagged India's first ever Asian Games medal after losing 3-0 to Korea in the semifinal. While the loss will sting, it will be overshadowed by the team's joy at making history.
“I had said before the Games that we had a slim chance and that we needed a good draw and that all of us to pull our weight if we were to finish on the podium and that is exactly what happened. Winning a medal was an outside chance, but we successfully converted it. I'm glad we stood up to the expectations and delivered,” team captain Sharath Kamal told Sportstar from Jakarta. The top-ranked Indian paddler rated this as one of the biggest achievements of his illustrious career.
The next day, Sharath Kamal doubled India's joy by progressing to the semifinals of the mixed doubles with Manika Batra, assuring India of a second medal in table tennis.
“It's been a really long time for me, personally. My journey at the Games began in 2006 and this is my fourth campaign. In 2006, I won CWG gold for the first time and 2018 I've won an Asiad medal for the first time. This is fantastic, it's right up there. The wait is over now and it's a great feeling. I feel like an excited teenager in love,” he chuckled.
Sharath has been ably supported by India's next best paddler, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, who steered the Indian team to the semifinal after sealing two wins in the quarterfinal clash against Japan. The victory included a drubbing of World No. 19 Kenta Matsudaira.
“We had been targeting an Asian Games medal after our Commonwealth success. As a team, we have been playing very well and that's why the energy in the team was so high and our opponents didn't take us lightly. The time has come for us to raise our standards and go to the next level. With this win, we are confident, hungry and an Olympic medal is not so far,” said an elated Sathiyan. It has been a fruitful year for the 25-year-old and a year of many debuts.
“It's been a fantastic year for me. I played my first CWG, made by World Championships debut and had my first Asian Games outing. I knew this was a very important year in my career because I've come in late after my completing my engineering degree and I've directly taken up the mantle by supporting Sharath and playing up. I haven’t gone through the organic way of being number three and then working my way up. I was directly playing as number one and it was a big moment for me,” he said.
The World No. 39 delved into how important Sharath was to the team.
“The way he supports us and takes all the pressure off us is unbelievable. Everyone is confident when Sharath is there and we just have to play our role and Sharath is there to take care of the team. We have now become a formidable team and have never been stronger.”