CHENNAI: AGE is just a number for Achanta Sharath Kamal. Come this July, the world No 32 paddler will be 39, but that could not stop him from eyeing his 10th national men's title. Sharath began his campaign on Sunday with an easy 4-0 win over Abinay Vijay Babu in round of 64. In an exclusive chat with TNIE, Sharath said the nationals is very important for the players as this will be their first competition in almost a year. He also informed that winning a medal at the Olympics is his goal this season.
Q: How important is the nationals especially, after lockdown?
A. The Nationals has always been a very important tournament, and this year, particularly post the lockdown, this is going to be the first tournament. Post the nationals, we have the Olympic qualifiers coming up in Qatar and the national championships will be a good testing ground for all the players who will go for the Olympic qualifiers. And a special mention about TTFI for coming forward and organising the national championships through which we will get the much-needed match practice before these very important tournaments.
Q: How eager are the players to participate?
A: It has been more than 11 months since we played in a major competition. The last major tournament being women open in March 2020. None of us have played in any competition, so all the players are very eager to get back into the routine by competing in the nationals.
Q: How are your preparations for the nationals?
A. My preparation for the nationals hasn't been very specific as I am more focused on the international events post this tournament and of course the Olympic qualifiers. So as part of the regime, the national championships will help me find my mental form and sharpness which is necessary to have an edge in the Olympic qualifiers.
Q: Will the camp you had at your academy be helpful in shedding the rust. Did you have match practice?
A: Since January, I had invited a few players to practice with me in Chennai. During these training sessions, we were more focused on match practice. So now after six weeks of intense preparation which includes strategy building, sharpening of skill set, video analysis and mental conditioning, I am now ready for the matches.
Q: How do you find the younger generation from the country?
A: The younger generation is very talented. These youngsters have been doing extremely well both in the domestic as well as the international circuit. Manav Thakkar, Snehit and Manush are players to watch out for apart from G Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai. This nationals will be one of the toughest in terms of competition.
Q: How do you reinvent and motivate yourself?
A: For any sportsperson, it is very important to stay motivated, as over the years I have achieved a lot of accolades for our country but I am still trying to get better and continue to improve myself. Post the 2018 Asian Games where we won a medal for the first time in 60 years, my goal is to win an Olympic medal which keeps me motivated.
Q: How do you manage fitness at this age?
A: Ramji Srinivasan at Sports Dynamix makes plans to keep me fit throughout the year and bring the best out of me all the time. My good physical fitness is the main reason why I am still able to keep up with the competition at the international level. I spend more time on my physical fitness sessions than my table tennis practice.
Q: Tournaments you will be playing before the Olympics?
A: As of now, Qatar will organise two world ranking tournaments in March from 1-6 and 8-13. None of the other tournaments have been confirmed. The world Olympic qualifiers will also be in Doha from March 14-17. The Asian Olympic qualifiers are from March 18-20 in Doha.
Q: Have you drawn out a plan for the path to the Olympics?
A: Yes, planning is the most important aspect as there are five important tournaments back to back. I have discussed with my coaches, Srinivasa Rao and Muralidhara Rao, with regards to technical and tactical aspects and have been working on it since this January. I am also getting assistance from Ramji Srinivasan to keep myself fit for all five tournaments, which is generally very difficult as I have never played five tournaments back to back. I have had a word with my nutritionist to have a clear diet plan which will come in handy during these competitions
Q: Sathiyan and Amalraj are from TN. How TN manages to produce quality players?
A: Tamil Nadu has had a long tradition and culture of producing champions in table tennis. Starting from Thiruvengadum, G Jaganath, V Chandrasekhar and many more, the state has produced the cream of Indian table tennis. As a kid, it is very easy to watch and learn from these top players. They have also set a very high benchmark for the younger generation to achieve. And currently, we have very good support from SDAT in terms of infrastructure. Plus we have a great sports policy through which a lot of sportsperson benefit.