India’s ace men’s table tennis player Achanta Sharath Kamal is looking to break into the top-20 after his giant-killing run in the recent Asian Table Tennis Championships in Jaipur, where he pulled off a creditable sixth-place finish. The country’s top ranked paddler vanquished three top players in the top-20 – world number ten Chuang Chih-Yuan of Chinese Taipei, world number 15 Gao Ning of Singapore and world number 16 Joo Saehyuk of Korea en route to a sixth-place finish. The 32-year-old Chennai-born player, who jumped to 40 in the world rankings, spoke to Sports Rediscovered in an exclusive interview.
Q You did exceedingly well in the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Jaipur. Must have given you a lot of confidence for the upcoming tournaments.
Sharath Kamal: Yes, of course, beating the top players on the circuit, especially on home ground is very satisfying and a confidence-booster. Worked quite hard for this tournament in particular and the effort paid off.
Q You beat three top ranked paddlers (in the top-20) in the Asian Table Tennis Championships. Do you think this performance will be a big confidence-booster in your pursuit to climb up the rankings?
Sharath Kamal: The new rankings are out but it did not improve as I expected it to be. I was expecting around 35 but I actually ended at 44 only as there were a couple of other tournaments in the same month which I didn’t play and players around me also played well. But nevertheless I’m still happy with my performance and hope to continue with my good work.
Q You hold the mantle of being the country’s top men’s singles paddler – with the form you are in do you think you can break into the top-20?
Sharath Kamal: Yes , if I’m able to stay consistent with my performance which actually has been for a while now, I would climb up the ranking to top 20, which eventually is my dream goal.
Q How do you assess Indian table tennis as of today?
Sharath Kamal: Indian table tennis has been constantly developing and the Table Tennis Federation of India is working quite hard for it. We have improved our rankings and people are recognizing India for table tennis in the international arena. There are a lot of juniors who are faring well and with guided support, they will all do well.
Q Do you think there is any incentive for youngsters to take up table tennis as a sport?
Sharath Kamal: Sport by and large has been improving in India and many people are making a career out of table tennis in particular. Apart from that there is better infrastructure these days with lot of monetary initiatives given by the local and central governments. So I think it’s a really good time to play table tennis.
Q You played club table tennis in Spain and Germany among others. Can you tell us how the standard of table tennis is different in these countries than what it is in India?
Sharath Kamal: Europe has a rich tradition in table tennis and they have a club culture where depending on one’s level, the clubs offer them a place to train, live and play for. The standard of table tennis is quite high in many European countries and we get to learn a lot from them.
Q Rio Olympics must be your biggest focus area from here on. How is the qualification route going to be?
Sharath Kamal: The qualification process is yet to finalised but most probably I would qualify directly from my world ranking and I’m working hard to do well in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Q Finally do you think Indian table tennis coaches need to be sent abroad to upgrade their skills so that it benefits our youngsters?
Sharath Kamal: Coaches need to update themselves with the current trend of table tennis and the players who are on the circuit. So it is very important that the coaches have the access to knowledge and can stay updated. It does not matter where, they can do it abroad or even try to get the access to knowledge from India, what matters is that the coaches are able to acquire knowledge and pass it on to the youngsters.