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Our primary goal is to defend our gold in the men's team event at 2022 CWG: Achanta Sharath Kamal

Achanta Sharath Kamal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018
Achanta Sharath Kamal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018

If there’s one Indian athlete who has never returned empty-handed from the last four Commonwealth Games, it's Achanta Sharath Kamal. The soon-to-be 40-year-old will become the first Indian to participate in five Commonwealth Games.

At the last CWG, in 2018, Sharath Kamal won three medals (gold in the men's team, silver in the men's doubles, and bronze in the men's singles). At the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, he is looking to better his Gold Coast Games performance. He aims to create history by winning four medals in Birmingham, that is, a medal in every event.

Sharath Kamal spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda before his participation in his fifth Commonwealth Games.

"I think I'm quite a senior player, I’ve been around for 20 years now. Not many players have played for such a long period of time. I'm really happy, I’m still able to contribute to the country and the sport. Especially at this time of year when there is strong contention for a few gold medals this CWG,” he said.

A seasoned campaigner, Sharath Kamal has won a total of eight medals at CWG. On being asked about the competition and his medal hopes in Birmingham, he replied:

"Competition is pretty much the same, nothing much has changed. In men’s team event, India should be playing the finals. Our primary goal is to defend our gold. In the men's doubles, Sathiyan and I won the silver last time. I hope this time we can turn it into gold.
"In singles, I got bronze at Gold Coast and I’ll be happy if I make it to the finals winning the gold. The competition is pretty much equal, I’ll be seeded 4 at Birmingham. I’ve beaten all the players who are seeded above me. So it will be a pretty close clash.

He added:

"I’m also doing extremely well, playing in the semi-final in the WTT, Doha. I won the national championships for the 10th time, so I've been in good shape.”
A very close match going down to the wire. Very happy with the way I’ve played the last few days. Looking forward to carrying this momentum into the next @WTTGlobal Star Contender tournament, starting in a couple of days. Will be participating in Men’s Singles & Doubles events! https://t.co/DikmKAemdr

Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will be the top seeds in the mixed doubles in Birmingham. Sharath will be paired up with Sreeja Akula in this category. Upon being asked if there’s a possibility of an all-Indian final, the veteran replied:

"I’ve played only one tournament with Sreeja before, but at this level, it will be important. Both of us are playing well in singles. We are national champions and at international level, she is doing consistently well. I hope that translates into a double as well.
"Sathiyan and Manika are the top seeds, it would be good to have an all-India final but there are other good mixed double pairs from Singapore, England, Australia, and Canada as well. If it happens, it will be the first All India mixed doubles final in the history of CWG.”

Sharath Kamal's equation with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

Both Sharath and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran hail from Chennai and give each other healthy competition in singles. Sharath recently defeated Sathiyan to become national champion for the 10th time. Converting a healthy singles competition into a doubles partnership is not an easy task.

Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran
Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran
"We have a very good rapport. He still feels like I'm his big brother and I also feel we go hand-in-hand in building the team to carry the Indian flag forward. Both of us complement each other and I think the competition is extremely healthy for both of us.
"Sometimes, his rankings get better than mine or my ranking gets better than his. I played well in a few tournaments and then, he played well. I think the competition is very, very healthy and that is able to keep both of us active and looking forward to doing what we are doing best."

He added:

"We've been playing doubles for the past 4-5 years and we know pretty much how each of us will play. He is a great doubles player, a great partner to have along with, especially in situations where there is doubt. At crucial moments, he raises the bar and does really well, making my job easy."

Fitness challenges for Sharath Kamal

Sharath mostly faces opponents 10 years younger than him or half his age. At 40, it’s a daunting task to remain fit and be at the top of your game. His fitness coach Ramji Srinivasan designs different fitness sessions during and after the season.

His sessions can go up to an hour and 45 minutes in the off-season. While in the run-up to important tournaments like the Olympics or CWG, it would last a maximum of 45 minutes and require a very high intensity workout.

"Earlier, I used to spend 6-7 hours on the table. But now, I'm spending only 3-4 hours on the table, and 3-4 hours in the gym or fitness ground. With just skills, I will not be able to compete in modern day TT.
"Fitness is very important to me at the moment and that is the sole reason why I am still able to play with them. I've focused a lot on the fitness part in recent times and that has helped me continue to perform better and better."

In the build-up to CWG, Sharath Kamal, ranked 38th in the world, will be participating in the WTT Star Contender and WTT Feeder series in Budapest, Hungary. WTT Star Contender will feature almost every top 10 player in the world. Sharath reached the semi-finals of the WTT Contender in Doha, Qatar, earlier this year.

Sharath recently met five-time Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin of the USA at an event in Bengaluru. Speaking about his meeting with Gatlin, Sharath Kamal said:

Really nice meeting 5x Olympic Medalist @justingatlin, discussing sports, training regimes and the @Olympics. Fantastic to discuss technicalities of our sports, too!Thank you @TCSWorld10K & @GoSportsVoices for inviting me! https://t.co/A518fG6Hsk
"Justin Gatlin is quite impressive. In Athletics, it’s not very easy to play for such a long period of time. The younger generation will always be better than they were in the past but he's been able to keep performing well.
"In 2004 Athens, he won (a) gold medal and in 2016 Rio, he won silver. You don't see athletes who are able to have such a long span and in a sport that is so physical to them. The way he interacted and shared life experiences with us was special. We never thought he is an Olympic gold medalist.”

Sharath Kamal's take on how to increase popularity of his sport

Indian paddlers have achieved new heights, but the popularity of the sport has not increased compared to other sports. Achanta Sharath Kamal shared his thoughts on this, too.

"We need to win big medals at World Championships or Olympics, so the victory can be celebrated. We had a fantastic run at 2018 CWG, Manika winning four medals and us winning team gold. Even when I won singles gold in 2006, the popularity of the sport increased.
"But we have to do it consistently at international level as a team to gain that popularity. But we need world and Olympic champions to have that kind of popularity like badminton or other sports has.”

The table tennis event in Birmingham will be played at the National Exhibition Centre. The NEC will also host weightlifting, badminton, and boxing. At CWG, there’s always an opportunity to watch multiple sports. However, Sharath Kamal isn't sure he and his teammates will have time.

Brilliant performances and a historical feat from our shuttlers! Beating the best all their way to win the prestigious #ThomasCup title for the first time in 73 years! #TeamIndia https://t.co/IM6JoOtxRf
"We will be playing from day one and will play almost every day of the tournament. I don’t know how much time we will have to watch other sports," he said.
"We are very close to badminton guys. Satwik, Chirag, Lakshya and others are good people. We keep writing to each other. Badminton and table tennis are sister sports as well. Even in Birmingham, our halls are nearby, so will watch them in action when we get time.
"Also, will try to watch squash as most of the players are from my city, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal, Sourabh Ghosal. I don’t know whether we will have time to watch a team sport like hockey.”

Let's hope Sharath Kamal is on the winning side throughout CWG 2022, whether on court or in the stands supporting his compatriots.

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Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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