Sharath Kamal vs Ma Long - Tokyo Olympics, Men's singles 3rd round
Sharath Kamal, the Indian table tennis legend, took a deep breath as Ma Long readied his serve 10-8 down in the second set. Arguably the greatest player to ever play table tennis, Chinese superstar Ma Long was expected to dominate and run away with the match in this 3rd round encounter. However, Achanta Sharath Kamal, the Indian table tennis warrior, had other plans.
With a wonderful forehand return, Sharath Kamal won the game and leveled things up with Ma Long. The third game almost went to the Indian superstar as well. Ma Long was forced to take a time-out on game point as he won the third set 13-11 to take a 2-1 lead against Sharath Kamal. The Chinese legend went on to win the match 4-1, but Sharath Kamal certainly gave the defending Olympic champion a scare.
Ma Long had earlier made a statement saying - "Losing a game would mean I am letting down China". It was just one game in the match, but that one game won by Sharath Kamal once again broke new ground for Indian table tennis.
Sharath Kamal's inspirational performance should not come as a surprise to anybody. The 39-year-old after all is no stranger to being a trailblazer in Indian table tennis.
Sharath Kamal - The man who made Indian table tennis recognized around the world
Sharath Kamal's long international career has been filled with many firsts for Indian table tennis. The lanky paddler first caught the world's attention when he won the Commonwealth Games Men's Singles Gold Medal in 2006 in Melbourne.
Putting up a superb performance in the final, Sharath Kamal beat the home favorite, William Henzell, to claim the top prize. Ever since then, the Tamil Nadu athlete has been putting in consistent performances for the country.
Sharath Kamal kept going into unchartered territory for Indian tennis players. From being the first Indian TT player to be ranked in the top 50, to winning an unprecedented 9 national singles titles, Sharath Kamal's longevity and excellence has served as an inspiration to many young paddlers in India.
Indian table tennis has never been in a stronger position, and it is all thanks to Sharath Kamal
Indian Table Tennis has never been in a stronger position. From winning a medal in the Asian Games to constantly dominating the Commonwealth Games, the table tennis fraternity in India is constantly evolving and improving in their quest to become a global force to be reckoned with.
Sharath Kamal has had a huge role to play in India's recent successes. The first Indian player to play in the famous German Bundesliga TT league, the 39-year-old's exploits in the league opened the doors to many other players like Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai to train in Europe consistently and improve their games.
Kamal's rise in the TT world has been a tale of absolute grit, determination and mental fortitude. Currently ranked #32 in the world, the Tamil Nadu man is still the highest ranked Indian.
In fact, Sharath Kamal's mental strength and toughness can be seen from the fact that he almost quit the sport in 2015 after suffering from a horrific injury during the World Championships in China. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda in 2016, the table tennis star had spoken about the challenges he faced just to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Things were quite hard especially on the mental part as I was preparing for the Rio Olympics since 2012 and there was this threatening situation of me missing it and also probably not being able to play table tennis again. So it was testing times both mentally and physically ,
I was on a wheel chair for 6 weeks after the operation and then started to slowly limp back into my sporting life. It nearly took me 8 months before I could start to compete on the international circuit. When I started to walk after 6 weeks on a wheel chair, things were very hard and I had to spend almost 6 hours working with the physio.
The comeback from that injury has been nothing short of inspiring. Sharath Kamal not only made a full comeback, but he has incredibly managed to get even better.
The highest point in Indian table tennis arguably came in the 2018 Asian Games when a strong Indian men's team led by Sharath Kamal and ably supported by the likes of Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai secured a historic bronze medal. Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra created more history when they won a bronze medal at the Mixed Doubles event as well.
With more and more Indian players being ranked in the top 100, Indian table tennis has never been in a stronger position and it wouldn't have been possible without Sharath Kamal.
Sharath Kamal's legacy serves as an inspiration to the current and next generation of Indian table tennis players
The four-time Olympian might have made his last appearance at the games, but his legacy will live on forever. A true pioneer in Indian table tennis, Sharath Kamal's journey from being ranked #200 in the world in 2004 to world rank #32 in 2021 has been nothing short of magical and inspirational.
Playing alongside TT legend Timo Boll in the German Bundesliga to still captaining the Indian side to new triumphs and new heights, Sharath Kamal's contribution to the Indian table tennis game will live on forever.
Sharath Kamal's performances and incredible achievements have already inspired the likes of Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai, Manika Batra and Manav Thakkar to make a huge impact on the world stage.
With Indian table tennis going from strength to strength, Sharath Kamal's legacy and impact on the game in this country will forever be remembered fondly.