One of the highlights for Indian table tennis in the initial few months of the season was Achanta Sharath Kamal’s return to form.
For a man chasing his elusive Olympic glory, the veteran paddler was showing signs of some top-notch form when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill.
The situation in India was not as bad when the Chennai-based Sharath Kamal decided to make the trip Muscat for the Oman Open -- the last event before the ITTF Tour was suspended.
With the meet in Oman being an ITTF Challenge Plus event and Sharath Kamal riding high on form following a silver medal show in men’s doubles at the Hungarian Open, the 37-year-old was keen to make the most of the opportunity.
But still, doubts remained on his participation. Especially with the ever-changing situation with the coronavirus spread. However, a determined Sharath Kamal didn’t look back.
Though a title in the Omani capital helped calm some nerves, what went into Sharath Kamal taking such a step? Especially with the ever-looming threat of COVID-19.
“To be frank, I was scared,” revealed Sharath Kamal in a recent interview with the Olympic Channel.
“But then the (Olympic) qualifiers were coming up in three weeks and I wanted some match practice. And then, I had a direct flight that I could catch from Chennai to Muscat as well."
The event Sharath Kamal refers to is the Asian Olympic Qualification tournament that was scheduled to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from April 6-12, which since then has been cancelled.
Understanding one’s body
The 37-year-old is now back in Chennai and has been following the lockdown protocols imposed across the country. But looking at his decision a few weeks back, the Indian table tennis player is happy that he played the Oman Open.
Following his win, Sharath Kamal is expected to rise to top 30 in the ITTF rankings once the season resumes.
But more than the rankings, the Indian paddler is happy that he could build on his form. “This (the wins) all ties up to be peaking at the right time,” he said.
“Especially after the Rio Olympics, I have understood that my body needs at least two months to start peaking. Two months of hard training.
“I started the process in November. That’s when I started preparing for the Olympics. So the results don’t surprise me. I have been doing well on the tour as well. So that’s giving me the confidence that my training has been on point.”
Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan’s fine show
The past few months have also seen Sharath Kamal stitch together a fine partnership with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran on the doubles front. And the silver medal at the Hungarian Open helps add to their confidence.
“I think we complement each other very well. Our game is very different and that helps when you play doubles,” says Sharath Kamal describing his partnership.
“I am more attacking, and he is closer to the table and is good with those quick returns. He controls the ball well while I prefer staying back and engage in my movements and wait for the ball before I can come up with the return.
“I think the combination of him being good closer to the table and my ability to stay back and produce the goods has helped us a lot,” he observed.
With the form going for him and qualification for the Games all but confirmed, Sharath Kamal will be eager to get into his groove once the season resumes as he continues his build-up to what will probably be his last Olympics.