Indian table tennis is in a better place than it's ever been, highlighted by impressive performances such as that of Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in recent times.
The ongoing 10-day preparatory camp in Chennai from December 20-30 led by Sharath Kamal aims to ensure as smooth a preparation as possible ahead of the Tokyo 2020 qualifying event scheduled to be held in Gondomar, Portugal from January 22-26.
At the camp, the nine-time Senior National Champion Kamal was pleased with how the team's preparations were coming along. “We are favourites to qualify for the Olympics and hoping to put on a good show,” said the Padma Shri awardee to The New Indian Express.
The year of change
Kamal believes 2016 saw a key turnaround for Indian table tennis. He cites not just the inception of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league that year, but a greater focus on organisation and funding by the governing body in India.
“There was a clear structure in place. Funding from the Sports Authority of India improved and the then coach Massimo Costantini helped us improve,” the world number 41 explained.
UTT, in keeping with the infusion of interest that similar franchise-based models like the Indian Premier League or Premier Badminton League brought about, helped expand the popularity of table tennis in India.
“It provided exposure and mental preparation for the players. This was not there in India before 2016. Sathiyan and Manika (Batra) are the finds of the tournament,” said the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
Strategy behind German lines
In-between the Chennai training camp and the Olympic qualifiers, the Indian squad will also partake in a training stint with the German national side from January 13-20 in Dusseldorf.
Choosing the German squad was a well-considered decision given that the No. 3 side has already qualified for Tokyo 2020 and will therefore not be facing the Indians in the qualifiers. Elaborating on the strategic call, Kamal told The Times of India, "I wanted us to maintain some sort of secrecy regarding our training module."
Hello, Old Friend
At the Chennai practice camp, the men's contingent saw their spirits boosted further by a visit from eight-time national champion Kamlesh Mehta, whose record was broken by Kamal. After interacting with the players present, the former national coach said, “I met the team and wished them for the qualifiers.”
Currently seeded fourth, behind South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Sweden, even reaching the quarterfinals will book a Tokyo 2020 berth for India.