Top paddlers arrive in Chennai to prepare for Olympics qualifiers

India’s best singles player G. Sathiyan, Commonwealth champion Harmeet Desai and SAF Games winner A. Amalraj will be joining the team in the coming days.

Manav Thakkar, Manika Batra and Sharath Kamal at the Hall of TT in Chennai.   -  R. RAGU

Over the next nine days the entire Indian men’s table tennis team will be training at the Hall of TT, Nehru Stadium here, in preparation for the World Team Qualification team (men & women) tournament to be held in Gondomar (Portugal) from January 22 to 26.

On Sunday, Sharath Kamal was sparring with Manav Thakkar and India’s highest-ranked women’s singles player Manika Batra was playing at the far end of the hall with her own sparring partner Sanat, a junior paddler from Pune.

It is learnt that India’s best singles player G. Sathiyan, Commonwealth champion Harmeet Desai and SAF Games winner A. Amalraj will be joining the team in the coming days.

Sharath, who was instrumental in organising the camp, said: “We have been without a coach since the 2018 Asian Games. Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) is trying their best. But we can’t keep hoping that something will happen.”

The Commonwealth Games champion said he and Sathiyan have requested TTFI to form a panel of Indian coaches to assist the country’s men and women teams in the build up to Tokyo Olympics.

At Chennai, the TOP Scheme-supported camp has an entire ecosystem to help the players. Rajath Kamal, who was the former Indian TT team sports analyst, is assisting his brother Sharath in managing the schedule and logistics, and there is also the Indian team’s physio Hirak Bagchi and fitness trainer Ramji Srinivasan’s Sports Dynamix.

"All components expect the [head] coach have been added to the camp,” smiles Sharath.

With a month for the qualification tournament, Sharath said that one of the main focus of the camp is on doubles.

The Portugal event consists of five matches inclusive of a doubles and four singles. “Doubles will be the most important as the tie starts with it,” emphasised Sharath. However,only upon the arrival of Sathiyan, Amalraj and Harmeet will the doubles team be finalised.

Sharath, 37, said, “We are concerned about the doubles because normally Sathiyan and I pair. But in this [Oympic qualification] tournament, we cannot play together as one of us will have to play two singles. We need to practice all the permutations and combinations."

Manika said she had come to the city to train with Sharath for mixed doubles. “Me and Sharath bhaiya are mixed doubles partners. So we wanted to train together as many tournaments are coming up. If we train like this we can achieve something,” she said.

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