Isolation gives Indian table tennis stars time to reassess next steps

While Sharath Kamal will be busy planning how to restart his preparations for the Olympics, the self-isolation period is a time to relax for Sathiyan.

One of India’s leading table tennis stars Achanta Sharath Kamal was hoping for the Olympics to be his swansong.

For a paddler who helped establish India's prowess in the international table tennis circuit, one couldn't have hoped for a better farewell. And the Chennai star too was busy sweating it out for what would have been his 'last roar'.

The Indian ace had started his preparations for Tokyo 2020 in November last year and was coming up with some quality performances building up to the Games.

Be it his performance at the Olympic Team Qualification in Portugal or his title-winning run at the Oman Open, the Chennai player was warming up to the Olympics in some fashion.

But now with the Games being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharath Kamal believes he’ll have to dig deep into his reserves yet again to find that extra ounce of energy, a challenge that he seems ready for.

“I began my preparation for the Olympics last November and I am peaking now and doing well,” said the Indian veteran in an interview to the Times of India. “With the Games postponed, I will have to play a lot of tournaments to keep my rankings up and the process is tedious.”

Time to relax for Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

While the self-isolation period will see Sharath Kamal think and ponder over what the future holds for him, for Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, it’s a time to put his legs up and relax.

The latest talent in the Indian TT circuit, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, has been living out of a suitcase of some time with competitions across the world keeping him busy.

But now with the ITTF suspending the Tour for a foreseeable future, Sathiyan can take a step back and relax before he gets into the grind once the world is out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you keep training or playing tournaments you tend to concentrate more on what’s next,” he said. “But now, with no tournaments taking place I have the time to assess where I went wrong in my previous games and rectify it.

“With the Olympics postponed, it’s back to the drawing board. But for now, I am enjoying some time at home watching Netflix.”

How two of India’s leading lights in men’s table tennis are utilising the unexpected break is different. But both Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran agree that the postponement of the Olympics has provided the Indian Table Tennis Federation with an opportunity to get a foreign coach on board at the earliest.

While Sharath Kamal (right) will be busy planning how to restart his preparations for the Olympics, the self-isolation period is a time to relax for Sathiyan. Photo: ITTF
While Sharath Kamal (right) will be busy planning how to restart his preparations for the Olympics, the self-isolation period is a time to relax for Sathiyan. Photo: ITTFWhile Sharath Kamal (right) will be busy planning how to restart his preparations for the Olympics, the self-isolation period is a time to relax for Sathiyan. Photo: ITTF

Time to get a national coach 

The Indian table tennis team has been without a dedicated coach since 2018 after Massimo Costantini, who helped Indian table tennis rise to unexpected heights, left the role with the ITTF in the hunt for a coach since.

“ITTF now have some time for a foreign coach to be hired since the Olympics have been pushed by a year. There are talks with a few coaches but things will become clearer only in the coming months,” said Sharath Kamal.

Meanwhile, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran believed that a coach should be hired with a long-term vision of the Paris Olympics in 2024. 

“We now have time for a coach to be roped in but that can happen only when the situation becomes normal. Also, the new coach must continue not just for the Tokyo Olympics but for the next edition in Paris as well. That will ensure continuity and benefit the team in the longer run,” he hoped.

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