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Tokyo Olympics is going to be probably my best in terms of performance: Sharath Kamal   

Achanta Sharath Kamal is confident of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics
Achanta Sharath Kamal is confident of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics
Kaushiik Paul

Achanta Sharath Kamal is no stranger. A stalwart of the Indian table tennis fraternity for almost two decades, the 38-year-old Sharath Kamal is eyeing a Tokyo Olympics berth and is still going strong.

With six qualification spots on offer at the Asian qualifiers in Doha from March 18, Commonwealth Games gold medallist star paddler Sharath Kamal enters the competition as the top-ranked Asian at 32.

Sharath Kamal returned to action during the Nationals last month before making a comeback at international level at the WTT Contender series in Doha. In both events, Sharath Kamal was the best-placed Indian reaching the round of 16. Sharath Kamal crashed out of the World Olympic qualifiers in the pre-quarterfinals.

Although the draws are yet to be announced, the 2018 Asiad bronze medal winner, Sharath Kamal, sounded confident of making it to his fourth Olympics, the driving force and much more in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda from Doha. Excerpts:

SK: Six spots will be up for grabs in the Asian qualifiers. How confident are you of making the Tokyo Olympics cut?

Sharath Kamal: I am really very confident of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. Both G Sathiyan and I will qualify. That’s also because of our very high world rankings which will also be considered during the Asian qualification. I think we are 95 per cent through.

We just need to be present there and we will have to beat a player from Pakistan -- both of us -- which is not very difficult for us given the current form we have.

The mixed doubles is something which we will have to look into because there is only one place from Asia for the Tokyo Olympics. Manika and I will try to take that place.

We have a very strong competition from Korea (Jeon Ji-hee & Lee Sang-su), who are one of the best. We beat them in the 2018 Asian Games when we got that bronze medal. Mixed doubles will be quite a challenge.

Sharath Kamal enters the Asian Olympic qualifiers as top-ranked at 32
Sharath Kamal enters the Asian Olympic qualifiers as top-ranked at 32

SK: In the WTT Contender series, you pushed hard on your opponents but couldn’t covert those into victories. Where did you lack?

Sharath Kamal: More than what I lacked, I am really happy with the way I have played. I had such a great run and positive experience there, beating World No.16 and World No.50, making it into the last 16 of both the tournaments (WTT Contender & WTT Star Contender).

Also after playing tournaments after 11 months gap due to the COVID-19 situation in India, I am really happy that I am back at the place where I left in March 2020 when I won the Oman Open. Of course there are certain areas (defense and backhand) to work upon, but I would like to take things more positively from here.

SK: Beating World No.16 Patrick Franziska must have been one of the biggest wins in your career...

Sharath Kamal: Beating Patrick Franziska (in WTT Star Contender) was really good. I wouldn’t deem it as one of my best victories because I have beaten some of the top 10 players before. For Franziska, I have played against him and with him in the same team in Germany for two seasons and we are good friends also. Game wise and level of my performance, I think I played really well in that match to beat him.

The last time I beat him was in 2010 or 2011. I have been losing to him since then in various Bundesliga matches and the Australian Open in 2018. But I am really happy with the way I performed and could convert that match and it has given me a lot of confidence.

SK: How did you utilize the lockdown? Did you make any technical changes in your game during that time?

Sharath Kamal: At the beginning of the lockdown, we were all a bit lost. We didn’t know what would happen, what to do and if we could train. But from September onwards when things got easier in India comparatively, we started training. Of course by then I felt that we had lost six months, and were behind the rest of the world.

All of them had been training continuously as things didn’t stop for the rest of the world, at least for the top-level athletes. It probably stopped for two weeks and they were back again. It was really hard to get back into the routine and mentally it was taxing and more difficult.

Physically also, to keep up with all the technicalities, skills and working on the weaknesses was not happening and that pushed us behind.

I am thankful to the federation and the SAI for organizing a long training camp from October to December (last year) where all of us got back into good rhythm and routine both in table tennis and physically. I worked a lot on my physical part and technically also made a lot of changes to my backhand, which has been working well. But I hope the best is yet to come.

Sharath Kamal has four Commonwealth Games gold medals in his showcase
Sharath Kamal has four Commonwealth Games gold medals in his showcase

SK: You have been one of the most consistent paddlers on the circuit for the last two decades. What motivates you to still go strong at this age?

Sharath Kamal: I think that passion continuously keeps me going. There are always goals that are set at different points in my career, which I try to achieve and push for the next. Commonwealth Games was the first one. Once we achieved that, we were hoping for the Asian Games medal and we got that in 2018.

Once you get that Asian Games medal, now you think that you are close to an Olympic medal. The East Asians are pretty dominant in this sport and if you can win in the Asian Games, you have that chance to win at the Tokyo Olympics too. This is going to be my fourth Olympics and probably my best in terms of performance and results.


Edited by Rohit Mishra

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