From almost quitting the sport to leading the Indian TT contingent at Rio Olympics: The inspiring story of Achanta Sharath Kamal
Achanta Sharath Kamal has undoubtedly been India’s biggest table tennis star in the last two decades. After missing out on the London Olympics, the paddler from Chennai is determined to put on a good show next month in Rio.
Known for his attacking style and powerful top-spins, Sharath Kamal had to almost give up the game when he suffered a horrific injury in the World Championships in China. However, like a true champion, the lanky paddler never gave up and qualified for his third Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Sharath Kamal spoke to us on a wide range of issues including his comeback from injury, the role his family played in his career and the merits of Indian paddlers training abroad.
Q) Firstly, congratulations Sharath! You have qualified for your third Olympics! With 4 Indian Table tennis players set to take part this time, do you think Indian table tennis is at its best right now?
This is the first time 4 players have qualified from India and also the first time two women from India are going to the Olympics. Table tennis has been moving in the right direction from the last 10 years, ever since we won gold in the Commonwealth Games. So hopefully the upward trend continues for the sport in India.
Q)After a career threatening injury in the World Championships in China, you have come back stronger than before! How did the eight month layoff and affect you both physically and mentally?
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.
Q)You have been training and playing abroad in the German league in Borussia Dusseldorf which is one of the best clubs in the league. How big a role has it played in improving your game?
I moved to Europe in 2004 when I became the National champion and wanted to improve on the international circuit. First I went to Sweden for a year, then to Spain for 4 years and finally moved to Germany in 2010. Since then, I have been playing in one of the best European clubs, Borussia Dusseldorf, with former world No.1, Timo Boll. That is one of the main reasons I would attribute for my international success. Playing in the European leagues with lots of different players has given me plenty of match practice and confidence to take on the best players in the world.
Q)With Mr Kamlesh Mehta planning to start the Table Tennis Premier League, is it the best way forward to popularise the sport in India?
I think it would be a great boost to table tennis with some of the top players in the world playing in India. We could also learn a lot from the top players and coaches which would, in turn, help the younger generation to understand the game better and improve.
Q)What role has your family played in your career? Have they always supported your endeavours?
My family has been the pillar of support without whom, I doubt I could have reached such heights in my career. I would say that I had 2 parts in my career: the first part with my parents and the second part with my wife and daughter.
My parents, uncle, who was my coach, and my brother helped me scale heights and reach international standards. They were the ones who always gave me the belief that I could conquer the international circuit . I turned Pro and life was quite hard and it was at this time when my family was completely behind me and helped me go ahead.
Then my second part of my career started when I was slipping down the rankings and when I moved to Germany with my wife. There, my wife could see that it was getting hard for me to balance both personal and professional life in Europe, so she told me to concentrate completely on my profession and she would take care of the family. So that gave me a lot of space to work and finally I could achieve what I wanted to achieve.
Q)What expectations do you have of yourself and the Indian contingent at the Olympics?
My best at the Games has been 3rd round. So personally for me, I would like to play the quarterfinals which would be a great achievement. But from the Quarterfinal, it is only another round for a medal. So I am quite Open minded.
SHARATH ON THE SPOT
Greatest victory of your career: 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal
Idols?: Roger Federer, Pullela Gopichand
Favourite food: Thai kitchen
Who was your first coach? Who is your present coach? :It has always been the Rao brothers( Srinivasa Rao and Muralidhara Rao)
Favourite movie: Deewar
Favourite actor and actress: Aamir Khan/ Rajnikanth ( Difficult to decide between them), Madhuri Dixit
Finally, your message to all the table tennis lovers and fans in India: Enjoy the sport and that is the only way one can get better in anything they do.