Sharath Kamal aims for a ranking spot in top 20s

Sharath Kamal, the Indian paddler, is also preparing in earnest for the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Sharath Kamal is ranked 33 in the latest ITTF rankings.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Sharath Kamal aims to break into the top 20 in the world rankings in 2019.

“Personally, for myself in 2019, the goal would be to get into top 20 in the world rankings and 2020 Olympic Games is the next big thing,” the paddler, ranked 33 currently, said here in the presence of former national champion Kamlesh Mehta.

In the year ahead, Sharath also aims to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. “The major thing in the plan is the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, especially after winning medals at the Asian Games — we have won two bronze medals in 60 years. Those medals give us a lot of belief that even at the Olympics [winning medals] is a possibility. [That’s] because, in the Asian Games, the competition is very high, and more or less, they are the recurring teams at the Olympics, apart from a few European nations. If we can win a medal at the Asian Games, a medal at the Olympic Games is not a shot too far,” he said.

‘Road map’

At the Asian Games, besides the bronze medal won by the men’s team, led by Sharath, India had also clinched a bronze in mixed doubles.

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Preparations have begun for the Tokyo Games, revealed Sharath. “We have started our preparations. We have a road map. We have had training programmes and tournament schedules. At this moment we have chosen a lot of tournaments, but in the end we will narrow it down as we start playing,” he said.

He added: “So, beginning of 2020 will be the first qualifiers for the Olympics. Then in April and May, so there are lots of qualifiers coming up. We need to be ready for them.”

‘Ecosystem’ changes in India

Sharath pointed to changes in the “ecosystem” that has aided India’s success in the recent past. “Back then, when I played my first World Championship, we were 29th in the world and now, we are 10th in the world. So, we have come a long way. The bodies supporting the game — Table Tennis Federation of India, 11Sports, all of them — have created a good ecosystem around the players, so we can do well at international events. I think that’s the biggest change. Earlier if you saw, the players did not come out from the system but more from their natural skill and that is the reason we had a select few who were doing well. Like in Kamlesh [Mehta]’s time, he was the only one in the top 100.

Sharath Kamal (centre) won two medals at the Asian Games in 2018. Alongside him are father Srinivasa Rao (left) and uncle Muralidhara Rao. Photo: K. Pichumani

 

“Then, Chetan Baboor was the only one there, and even in my time, I was the only one there. But now we are coming in as a bunch. That’s because the system is clearly producing the results. If we can continue to have these kinds of support, we will be in the best five or probably the best in the world,” he contended.

‘Big pool of players’

Sharath revealed it was Baboor who had advised his father to take him to Europe, to play professionally there. This was before the change in scenario — there are now enough good players in India itself. “Well, even before me, Chetan Baboor had gone [to Europe]. He was the one who told me — rather, my father — that if I wanted to do well I need to go to Europe. The main reason to go to Europe was there are lot of players on a good level and there is league system, where every week you play a lot of matches.

“It’s a consistent programme for six-eight months where you are in good practice and you have good matches. I think that thing has changed in recent years. That is not the only way to improve now because India has a big pool of players who are doing well. The necessity to go to Europe has reduced,” he said.