It is heartening to see table tennis getting the credit which has been long due: Achanta Sharath Kamal
“The 2018 Commonwealth Games were the best we ever played. Winning a total of 8 medals for the country is certainly a huge achievement. It is just fantastic and replicating such a performance would be a difficult task for the future paddlers. We are extremely proud and happy with the way things have turned out especially after a lacklustre performance at 2014 CWG,” shared the Indian legend Achanta Sharath, in an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda.
The Indian contingent could just manage one silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, with Achanta Sharath Kamal and Anthony Amalraj bagging it in Men's doubles. The monumental increase in the medal tally is proof that table tennis is a sport which is finally being taken seriously in the country.
Achanta believes that a great show at CWG infused Indian paddlers with enthusiasm and confidence, becoming one of the reasons behind the Indian contingent’s strong performance at the 2018 World Team Table Tennis Championships which took place in Halmstad, Sweden. It was the men’s team best-ever finish in 33 years.
“We could have had a little better luck and finished 9th in the tournament, however, we finished 13th, which is still quite commendable. I feel the performance at the World Team Championships was the best in my career. I have never played that level of table tennis before. Although we were tired physically after the 2018 Commonwealth Games, we were on a high, mentally, and that is the reason we performed well,” said the 35-year-old enthusiastically.
"As far as results are concerned, the men’s singles bronze medal I won against Samuel Walker at the Commonwealth Games was the icing on the cake. It was the last match on the last day, and despite being extremely tired, I managed to pull off a victory.
"I had not suffered defeat for 12 days in the full tournament, and suddenly I had lost four matches on the trot (in men’s singles semifinal, men’s doubles final, mixed doubles semifinal, and mixed doubles bronze medal match). Hence, I was mentally drained and to win the medal for the country was quite emotional,” the veteran paddler added collectedly.
Achanta defeated 23-year-old Simon Gauzy -- who is considered one of the best table tennis players of the modern world and is ranked 12th -- when India faced France at the World Team Championships. Gauzy is indeed a fantastic player, and the matches between the two legends are always neck and neck. If one set is won by Achanta, the other is taken by Gauzy in a splendid duel which makes for a nail-biting contest.
The Indian maestro went on to share his experience of playing him, “We have met multiple times before. I have played with him in the Bundesliga, and we met in Japan a few years ago, where he defeated me. We know each other really well and it is always fun playing against Simon.
"I beat him in World Championships during 2015 where I got injured and was ruled out for six months. He has immense talent and it is always nice to defeat such kind of players.”
The Asian Games squad has also been announced recently and the talented youngster, Manav Thakkar, has been picked up. The 18-year-old is certainly one of the future stars for India and is already ranked 243rd in the world. Manav made the nation proud when he became the first Indian paddler to ITTF junior World no. 1.
“What Manav has achieved in the recent past is really fantastic. Making it to the Asian Games squad is the reward for him and he has finally gotten the fruit for his labour for doing exceptionally well,” said the maestro Achanta in praise of the Rajkot-born paddler.
"Manav could have been on the CWG squad as well if we looked at the national ranking. However, he lacked a senior International ranking as he was concentrating more on the Youth Olympic Games and that may be the reason he could not make the cut. This was a good plan by the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI)," he added.
Achanta is currently in action for Warriors T.T.C. in the second season of Ultimate Table Tennis. They go up against Empowerji Challengers on Tuesday. We find out what the buzz is all about and ask Achanta of his experience at the young tournament.
“Ultimate Table Tennis has been a great game changer for table tennis. After the first season, Table Tennis gained a little popularity. It was a slow and steady step. Now, with the performances at the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships has boosted the sport a lot. A lot of children who come and watch us at UTT know majorly all the players by their names, which is an extremely positive sign," revealed the 35-year-old proudly.
"It is heartening to see table tennis getting the credit which has been due for a long time. This also pumps us up and motivates us to continue performing well at the international level,” the paddler said.
Achanta is also a fatherly figure for many youngsters in the table tennis circuit with almost everyone looking up to him and idolizing him. With the 2nd season of Ultimate Table Tennis kicking off, it gives the opportunity to a lot of youngsters to be up, close, and personal with him and take guidance from the seasoned campaigner.
Achanta also shared that interacting with youngsters like Ravindra Kotiyan and Sreeja Akula is also a good experience for him. It is fantastic for these young players to firstly see their idols and also have a chance to interact with the top players in the international circuit. UTT will help the youngsters develop the understanding of what goes through top players’ mind during preparation and what it took for them to reach such a high level.
The Indian Table Tennis contingent is also into its final stage of preparation for the upcoming Jakarta Asian Games. After the UTT concludes, the players will be seen battling for India’s glory at the Australia and Korea Open next month. There is a small training camp that has been organized in China in the run-up to the Asian Games. Hence the Indian paddlers certainly have their hands full trying to sharpen their skills.
When asked about his plans for the 2020 Olympics, Achanta said he wishes to participate and is even hopeful of representing India in the 2024 Paris Olympics in case he is physically fit.