MUMBAI: Ever since a historic gold by the women’s team at last year's Commonwealth Games, Indian table tennis has been gathering momentum. According to former Olympian Neha Aggarwal, there is a real possibility of that translating into bigger success.
"It’s possible to win an Olympic medal in mixed doubles," she said on the sidelines of India's Future Tycoons, a platform for young entrepreneurs organised by ENpower, in Mumbai on Sunday.
"The sport has been added to Olympics for the first time, and all teams will be starting from scratch. If Sharath (Kamal) and Manika (Batra) can win a medal at (2018) Asian Games — it wasn’t a fluke, they beat three good pairs in one day — it shows they have it in them."
Sharath and Batra had defeated Korean third seeds Lee Sang-su and Jeon Ji-hee en route the mixed doubles bronze. Sharath also led the men’s team to a bronze, India’ first table tennis Asiad medal.
Though he is 36, Sharath is fit and likely to spearhead India’s chances at the 2020 Olympics. In another fillip to the country's table tennis landscape, G Sathiyan reached a career-high rank of 28 in January, becoming the first Indian to breach the top-30.
"The time between now till Tokyo Games is precious. We should not waste it," Aggarwal, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said. "It will all have to start with hiring a good foreign coach. That’s the missing piece in the puzzle right now."
Italian Massimo Costantini had done wonders for the team after being appointed head coach in September 2016. But he quit after Jakarta citing personal reasons, leaving a massive void.
"A coach needs to be in place. He’s the most important aspect, whether you’re preparing an individual or a team. A roadmap needs to be laid out for what tournaments players should compete in, where they should train, and for bringing everybody together."
Many men’s players have been competing in top European leagues, and they have benefitted from it. However, Aggarwal believes India needs more training camps in Asian countries — the game’s hubs — to sharpen themselves for the challenges ahead.
"The Asians are faster; they play closer to the table. The Europeans are more powerful; they like long rallies. Indians play a mix, but prefer more of the European style," she explained.
"It’s very good that the men are playing in Europe. That’s where the major leagues are. But they need more time in Asia to train with players of that level for a longer period of time. Also, it will help them get used to the atmosphere, which are completely different in Europe and Asia. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in India at the moment. It’s very important to carry this momentum forward."