Ever since the Indian table tennis team has been without a foreign coach, India’s most-experienced paddler has taken charge.
For A. Sharath Kamal, one of India’s most-decorated table tennis player, it is a way of giving back to the game that made him what he is today.
“The mentoring aspect isn’t new to me. It’s been there for a while now,” Sharath told Sportstar . “At times, I feel I need to stop and let the other guys take over. They are doing pretty well. (G.) Sathiyan, in fact, has taken over from me. Harmeet (Desai) is playing well, Manav Thakkar and Archana Kamath are also doing pretty well. So, this is my way of giving back to the sport. The experience I have gained over the years has to be shared. (It’s) not fair that it just stays with me.”
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World No. 34 Sharath is confident that India, which is seeded fourth in the qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics, will pass the test.
“Even if we make it to the quarterfinals, we will qualify for the Olympics. We have a fair chance and given the current shape and form of the players, we are doing well. We need to take care of a few things, which is the men’s doubles and which is why the camp is happening in Chennai to practice more on doubles. We are ranked eighth in the world and seeded fourth in the tournament because the top four teams have already qualified. If we pull this off, we will be on the front page of a few newspapers I’m sure,” he added.
To prepare for the upcoming world team qualification event for the Tokyo Games, scheduled to take place from January 22-26 in Gondomar, Portugal, the Indian team will train in Dusseldorf, Germany for a week starting from January 13. Sharath said that the team will focus more on match practice and trying to stay fit.
In December 2019, Sharath had organised a week-long training camp in Chennai that began on December 23 – with very specific needs in mind. He mentioned that the focus was on the on the technique, footwork, fitness and building up the base.”
The 37-year-old, who was based in Europe for several years in Europe before shifting back to India, said he has tweaked his training regime to stay fit and to keep up with the youngsters.
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“I have played in Europe for a long time and I gained a lot of experience in how to build your game, your practice sessions and how to have a structure. That has developed me into the player I am today. Now, I focus more on fitness,” he said.
The year 2018 of one of the most successful ones for Indian table tennis, most notably at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. When asked whether 2019 was subdued in comparison, the veteran said: “2019 was also pretty good, actually. Sathiyan did well at the World Cup, qualified the main draw of the World Cup. I achieved my personal best ranking of 30 in the world. (We had a) fantastic Asian Championships, where we finished fifth. We did really well. Lots of things have happened, but it’s just that in 2018, we had won majors – Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games,” Sharath said.
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Sathiyan high on confidence after Korea and Germany
The past few weeks have been quite eventful for India’s highest-ranked player G. Sathiyan. In the last week of December, the Chennai-born paddler took part in a week-long training camp in Korea and followed it up with the German Cup triumph with his club ASV Grunwettersbach.
“It was fantastic. I have never seen such massive and tremendous training facilities. We trained at the Olympic training centre. The gym was bigger than my house. They start with the same routine for half-an-hour before core training. And then they begin their training. It was quite strenuous, but I enjoyed the top-level sparring,” said Sathiyan, who trained with the likes of Jang Woojin (world No.13), Lee Sangsu (world No.17), Jeoung Young-sik (world No.18) and An Jaehyun (world No.40). His entire trip was funded by TOPS (Target Olympics Podium Scheme).
After returning from Korea on December 30, the 26-year-old Indian lifted his first trophy of 2020 in Germany a few days later when his team ASV Grunwettersbach defeated the defending champion TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen to win the German Cup.
World No. 30 Sathiyan played an important role in the semifinals by beating Shang Kun 11-8, 7-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-9 in his singles match to steer his side into the final.