CHENNAI: Eight Commonwealth Games medals, two historic Asian Games bronze. These are some of the highlights of A Sharath Kamal’s illustrious career. The man who taught him how to become a world-beater on and off the table is Srinivasa Rao, his father. After producing several national champions since 1983, he has finally been nominated for the Dronacharya award.
Srinivasa’s love affair with table tennis was not planned. Hailing from Rajahmundry, a small town in Andhra Pradesh, he got hooked onto the game after watching people play. He decided to devote his time to the sport. Practising five hours a day, he started climbing up the national ranking charts. He was soon snapped up by Income Tax, who gave him a job. Srinivasa moved to Chennai, where later started his coaching career.
From being a player of note, he decided to enrol at NIS, Patiala, for a 10-month diploma coaching course in 1982-83, taking a long leave from work in the process. He began coaching at Santhome with the help of his brother Muralidhara Rao. Chetan Baboor and S Raman were among the first batch of trainees. Both went on to clinch multiple national crowns and the Commonwealth Games doubles gold.
The 64-year-old has since shifted his academy to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where the likes of K Shamini, Neha Agarwal and Anthony Amalraj have honed their skills under him. He still coaches there twice a day, six days a week. Sharath was only a year old when the likes of Baboor and Raman were his father’s trainees. He too came under the wings of his father, who moulded him into a national champion in all age-groups.
“He gave a lot of emphasis on perfecting basics. He wanted me to have strong base. In all these years, those lessons have helped me the most,” Sharath said. Was he a strict coach? “He believes discipline is the key to success. He did not give me any additional leeway just because I am his son. I’m thankful for that.”
After countless years of service, what does the future hold for the coach?
“I started with the dream of producing players who would win laurels for the country on the biggest stage. I’m happy that the players have done that. Sharath achieved things no one dreamt of. This nomination means a lot and hopefully, I will keep delivering champions so that an Olympic medal becomes a reality.” This is the first time that Srinivasa has applied for Dronacharya.