While the technical officials' entourage travelled from Dharwad to Ahmedabad after the conclusion of the South Zone national ranking table tennis tournament for the prestigious ITTF Asian Cup, A. Sharath Kamal preferred to take the longer route. Considering that the 35-year-old has only last month been blessed with a baby boy it was understandable that Sharath preferred a detour to spend a couple of nights with his family in Chennai.

Fresh from the break, the torchbearer of Indian table tennis for almost a decade is hoping to pull off a couple of upsets during the league stage on Friday at The Arena by Transstadia. Despite being placed in a tough group, Sharath has the additional motivation to stun higher ranked players: a top-two finish in the group will assure him of a direct entry for the next month's World Cup.

Moreover, a quarterfinal berth in a field that includes the defending world champion Fan Zhengdong of China and three other top-10 players in the world will also help Sharath to his next big target of making into the top-30 rankings.

“That is the only target (top 30 in the world) that I haven't reached until now. That is what is keeping me motivated," Sharath said. “I just like to play. Of course there is lot of pressure. There are lot of expectations and lot of family sacrifices. It is not very easy. The result is just the tip of the iceberg. What goes through behind, the sacrifices, are not seen.

That India is hosting the tournament would mean Sharath can hope to repeat his 2015 heroics in Jaipur. When last time India hosted the event, the aggressive paddler finished sixth, his best in the tournament so far. He hopes that the Amdavadis will turn up in numbers to support him and Harmeet Desai, the Gujarati paddler who will feature in the qualification group.

“Looking forward to home crowd support,” he said. “Playing in India is always been nice. I have always performed well at home. I hope this time also I perform well.”