Interview with Achanta Sharath Kamal: "This is the best phase of my career, hope it helps Indian table tennis get more sponsors"
Over the past few years, Indian table tennis has seen a renaissance of sorts, most of it’s up-liftment can be attributed to one man, Achanta Sharath Kamal. The 32-year old recently defeated three players from the world’s top-20 at the 2015 Asia Cup to announce himself as one of the contenders to the world throne.
Currently ranked 53rd in the world, the performance is set to launch the paddler in to the world’s top-30. Not only did Sharath reach the quarter-finals of the event, he also cemented his spot as one of the top six in Asia.
From relative obscurity to world recognition, Sharath spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Q. Within a matter of hours, you defeated the World no. 8 and 16 and garnered an all-time best top 6 finish, how was the experience?
This was the first time I defeated three World Top-20 players in the same tournament, This has to be the best phase of my career. I have reached the quarter finals before, but not by defeating such high profile players. I did defeat World no. 18 before, but this experience was amazing to say the least. Now my ranking should at least boost upto the top 30’s, which incidentally will be my highest.
Q. You played your Chinese Taipei opponent Chuang-Chih Yuan previously in the German Bundesliga, while plying your trade for Borussia Dusseldorf, did it help you understand his game?
I have beaten Chuan before, but while playing against him in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dusseldorf, I lost to him. My training and experience of playing him has helped me gain an advantage over him. It was great to beat such a talented and experienced opponent.
Q. What are the changes that have taken place in your game, since you moved to Germany in 2010/11?
Earlier, I was playing in Spain and I couldn’t finish that strong, my best ranking there was 73. So, yes, playing in the German Bundesliga has helped me earn vital experience for future tournaments and has brought in consistency into my game.
Q. In comparison of the infrastructure, do you think India has enough for the growth of table tennis?
The amount of infrastructure doesn’t matter, but how you use it matters. If you can grow your fitness, capability, only then can you use the infrastructure, only then can you use it properly. That being said, it can always get better in India.
Q. Last year, you reached a career high of 38, would you call that the best phase of your career?
This is definitely the best phase of my career, to beat the three top 20 players in a couple of days is a dream. Hopefully, I can build on it in the near future.
Q. India has always excelled at the Commonwealth Games, with you winning the gold medal yourself, however it’s been a different case at the Asian level. Why is it so?
It’s because Asia is the top continent in the world, when it comes to Table Tennis. The competition is so high, that it can be related to the Olympics, simply because, 80% of the best players are from this continent. However, we are improving on a daily basis. It takes time to be the best in Asia, but we are on our way.
Q. Where would you rank India among the Asian countries?
We are currently 8th in the continent, but hope individual performances will help us enhance our growth. As I said, we are doing very well and hope to continue the form in the near future.
Q. You transitioned across various youth levels in Indian table tennis, what are the things you learned at these levels?
As a youth player, my Coach Srinivasa, who previously coached the Indian national team, guided me through the entire process. When I became an international player, after graduating for the international level, my aim was always to go beyond. This is the place where my coaches played an important part, they always asked me to think beyond the National level.
Q. You were the only men’s singles player representing India at the Olympics, how different is the level as compared to the Asian one?
The thing is the Olympics has just 84 players participating, whereas the Asian Cup has much much more. Though the Asian Cup has more players, all the best players of the world play at the Olympics, so, I would say the difference is not that bad, but the concentration is as high.
Q. You won the US Open table tennis championships in 2010, how different is the competition in Germany?
There is no difference in the level of play, but yes, one difference that I can point out is that there are not as many top players participating in the Bundesliga. However, the level of play never changed because of the players there.
Q. Who is the most difficult paddler you have faced in your career?
As you mentioned, Ma Long was a difficult opponent from China, but I would rate Fang Zhendong as the most difficult opponent I ever faced. Not only did I never beat him, but was overwhelmed by him as well. So, yes Fang, hands down.
Q. Which are your upcoming tournaments?
Apart from the 2016 Rio Olympics, the World Championships next month will be a massive tournament for me and India. I am taking it one step at a time and want to perform well at the World Championships.
Q. Did you face any financial problems, while playing table tennis professionally?
Of course, I did, there have always been financial problems. The Sports Development Authority of Tamilnadu (SDAT) has always helped, but there has never been any other private sponsors. The Indian Olympic Committee (IOC) has also helped me, but Indian table tennis needs more sponsors to help the available talent. We need more money.
Q. Where do you see yourself and Indian table tennis in the next five years?
Well, to be honest, I see myself playing with my daughter post-retirement in the next five years *laughs*. For me personally, the most important event is the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) is trying to help boost the current talent and is hoping to garner private sponsors soon. Let’s just hope my achievement helps rope in more sponsors.