CHENNAI: The next three-four months is crunch time for the Indian men’s table tennis team. Everything has been designed towards peaking at the World Team Qualification for the 2020 Olympics. Slated to be held in Portugal from January 22-26, the goal for the Indian team is to finish in the top nine out of 32 countries. If they do that, India will not only qualify in the team event but can nominate two athletes in the singles competition as well.
With an eye on increasing India’s ranking to get a better draw in Portugal, A Sharath Kamal and Co have zeroed in on specific world-ranking tournaments over the next three months. “If we have better rankings (India is No 8 currently), we will have a better draw,” Sharath said on Monday. “That’s the primary goal for G Sathiyan and myself, we want to get the qualification done in January 2020 so that we have a good six-seven months to prepare for the Olympics.” If they miss, they will have to wait till the singles qualifiers in Doha from May 28-31.
What might hurt the team’s chances of nailing that qualifying spot is the continued absence of a foreign coach. The World No 37, who was being felicitated for his role in Chennai Lions’ win in the recently held UTT league, conceded that ‘is hitting us hard’. “This is the longest wait we have had in appointing a foreign coach,” he said. By the time he (new coach Dejan Papic) joins us, it could well be over a year (without one). That’s what is hitting us hard.”
One thing the two-time Asian Games medallist hopes is that Papic is able to hit the ground running if and when he joins the side after his surgery (knee replacement). “Coming back from a surgery, nobody knows how his knee will heal. And if and when he joins in six-seven weeks, he has to go with the flow of the players as it’s near the qualifying process. There won’t be much time for major tweaks. I hope he can do that, he seems to be well educated in terms of table tennis. I can see that he understands the whole thing well.”
What is of immediate interest is the upcoming Asian Championships in Bali (September 15-22). After that, they will feature in three world-ranking events (Swedish and German Open in October and Austrian Open in November) to try and improve their world ranking. Sharath and Sathiyan also hope to play a few friendly matches in Germany and Europe to prepare for the team qualifiers in Portugal.
The Table tennis Federation of India has agreed to postpone the senior nationals from the second week of January to the last week. “It’s preparation mode... we even asked TTFI to shift the nationals as it would be tricky for us to play nationals and immediately go to Portugal. They have agreed,” Sharath said. It’s now scheduled to be held in the last week of January in Telangana.