Men’s paddlers can spring a surprise in Tokyo: Sharath Kamal | More sports News

PUNE: If there has been one constant in Indian table tennis over the last two decades, it’s Sharath Kamal. The 37-year old first featured in the Olympic Games in 2004 and has now set his eyes on his fourth appearance at the Games in Tokyo as the men’s team qualifiers begin on January 22 in Gondomar, Portugal.

India, currently ranked ninth, have a strong chance of sealing their maiden appearance in the team event in Tokyo since top guns China, Japan, Germany and Brazil have already qualified.

But Sharath believes they can actually go all the way and climb the podium.

World No. 30 Gnanasekaran Sathiyan’s recent form coupled with youngster Manav Thakkar recently climbing to world No.1 in the Under-21 category has added to the team’s growing confidence, insisted Sharath.

“More than our confidence, other teams are feeling the heat from us,” Sharath, 33rd in individual world ranking, told TOI on Tuesday. “Many times it happens that other teams are scared of you but you are not confident. We will use this to our best advantage this time.”

The team of Sharath, Sathiyan, Manav, Anthony Amalaraj and Harmeet Desai has been playing together since Asian Games 2018. Since then, Harmeet has claimed his first international title at the Indonesia Master in November; Sathiyan has broken into top-25; Amalraj picked up gold at SAFF Games.

The three-time Olympian, who is now supported by Pune-based sports NGO Lakshya, oozed confidence that the Indian paddlers could return with a medal from Japan this year.

“I want to give it my best shot in Tokyo,” said the Chennai-based paddler, who had earlier appeared in the quadrennial event in in 2004, 2008 and 2016.

“No one imagined 10 year ago that there would be medals in other sports for India. Similarly, TT can spring a surprise this time. We can think about a medal.

“The men’s team is where we have the best chance of winning.”

However, Sharath lamented the lack of a permanent coach since the departure of Massimo Constantini in September 2018.

“Everything has been fine minus the coach,” said the nine-time national champion. “The news of a new coach does not come to us. It’s always in the media. It’s been really tough without one.

“In singles, we can manage with our personal coaches. But when it comes down to the team, I alone cannot do much. I am thankful that we have good team bonding.”

The men’s team will be travelling to Germany for a training camp from January 13-20.

“We had a training camp in Chennai where we focused majorly on doubles and fitness. Next camp we’ll been keen on building strategy for certain opponents and situations,” said Sharath.

Once the men’s qualifiers conclude, the paddler will turn his attention to train with Manika Batra, who trains in Pune. This will the first time when Olympics will have the mixed-doubles event.

“Qualifying is more difficult than playing in the Olympics. We can’t do much about living in different cities. We have had good support with TOPS when I have to travel to Pune (to train with Manika) or when she has to come play with me. We will invest more time after the team’s qualifiers for doubles,” he said.

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