TT stalwart Sharath Kamal says team can repeat its Gold Coast success

Opening their account with three bronze medals when table tennis made its Commonwealth Games debut at Manchester in 2002, India created a big bang by emerging as the overall champions in the 2018 edition at Gold Coast, Australia.

Led by veteran Sharath Kamal and G. Sathiyan, the Indian men reclaimed the Team Competition gold, while Manika Batra led the women’s team to gold and also made history by winning the women’s singles title.

India finished with three gold, two silver and three bronze medals, tied with Singapore on gold and silver count but emerging on top, thanks to the three bronze they won as compared to only one by Singapore.

The 40-year-old paddler, however, stated that it would be difficult for India to surpass the Gold Coast success story at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. India can at best equal the Gold Coast performance and win eight medals, but winning more than eight would be difficult, Sharath Kamal noted.

Sharath, who is ranked 38th in World Table Tennis, said in a conversation with IANS: “If you look at the whole team and the whole composition of how the Commonwealth Games is, India stands a fair chance to win those medals. Last time, we won eight medals in the Commonwealth Games.

“To say that we will win eight medals or more, I am not so confident. I am not so sure if we will be able to get that kind of performance because last time, it was fantastic. But I hope we will be able to equal that record.”

Sharath added there are a lot of expectations from the team following the Gold Coast success and they are trying to channelise that pressure into a winning mentality.

He pointed to the burden of expectations on the Indian team going into the Commonwealth Games. “I think what we did in Gold Coast takes precedence over every other achievement we have had at the Commonwealth Games. So, the expectations are high, which also means the pressure is high on us. But being a senior player and having been there for a long period of time, I do understand how to take this pressure along instead of (getting bogged down),” Sharath said.

“I would like to say that we should accept this pressure and say, ‘Ok, this is what we need to do’,” he pointed out in the interaction facilitated by the Sports Authority of India.

Sharath added: “So, if you look at the compositions of the teams (you will know) where India stands at this very moment. In the men’s team, we will be seeded No. 1 along with England — we would be No. 1 or England would be. We are a quite strong team; G Sathiyan had a fantastic run a few weeks ago, beating world No. 6, and personally, for me, the WTT tournament in Doha in March was very good. I played in the semifinal there, beating two top-20 players. It’s looking really good, I think.”

One reason for Sharath’s confidence in himself and his teammates is the progress the Indian players have made since 2018.

“Since 2018, there has been a lot of progress in the players and after the 2018 CWG, at the (Jakarta) Asian Games, we did well. Then at the (2020 Tokyo) Olympics, we did well, then we had the World Championships and the Asian Championships. We had our first medals in Asian Championships, in team event and men’s doubles (myself and Sathiyan),” he said.

The stalwart from Chennai is India’s most successful table tennis player in the Commonwealth Games having won the men’s singles and doubles titles in the 2006 edition in Melbourne, the men’s doubles title in 2010 CWG in New Delhi for a total of eight medals.

At the 2018 edition, Manika Batra won four medals while Sharath and Sathiyan claimed three apiece.

In the Birmingham Games, which will start on July 28, Sharath picked G. Sathiyan and Manika Batra besides himself to win the medals.

“At the Commonwealth Games, we stand a good chance in team events to win gold; men’s doubles last time we won silver, I hope this time we make it gold. Singles, of course, Sathiyan and I have a fair chance. Coming to mixed doubles, Sathiyan and Manika, of course, are the favourites, they are world No. 7, and they will be the top seeds. I and Shreeja, we are also looking at winning a medal,” Sharath added.

In 2018, Indian women made history by wresting the team competition gold from Singapore while in women’s singles, Manika Batra beat Singapore’s Feng Tianwei in the semifinals and Yu Mengyu in the final.

Singapore, along with hosts England, will again be the main hurdles for India in all sections of the competition that will be held from July 29 till August 8. Action will start with the preliminary rounds in men’s and women’s team composition before competitions for individual and doubles sections will start

Before reaching Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games, the team had a camp in Portugal where it trained with that country’s national team. Following that, they participated in two WTT Candidate events in Budapest, Hungary.

“We had prepared a lot of things for a long period and this was time to test what’s coming and what’s not… taking care of our body, recovery and increasing our match sharpness and skills,” Sharath said. “So, the training camp helped us re-evaluate our training sessions and preparations and follow it up with two good tournaments — this is the best run-up to the Commonwealth Games.”

Now that they have done it, the Indian table tennis players are raring to have a go at the competition in Birmingham with high hopes and a lot of confidence.

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