For the majority of India’s leading players in most individual disciplines winning or regaining the National crown is hardly an incentive. But for Sharath Kamal, it is one of the goals of the year during which he aims to get back into the top-50 bracket of the world rankings.

With the best ranking of 39 in August 2010, and presently slotted at 71st, Sharath remains the highest-ranked Indian in the game.

After ruling the domestic competitions for the better part of the last decade, Sharath hit a low by his standards. In the past 18 months, Sharath has been beaten a few times, including thrice in four meetings by National champion A. Amalraj.

The six-time National champion failed to make it to the London Olympics after losing to Amalraj in the qualifers. The setback made the former Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth championship winner take a hard look at his approach to the game.

He decided to “become more professional” by opting to have a part-time personal coach (Sweden’s Linus Mernsten), use the services of a psychologist and accept the invitation to train at Germany’s national table tennis academy at Dusseldorf.

Recently, Sharath’s best result was the 4-3 victory over World number 31 Patrick Baum on way to the pre-quarterfinals of the Polish Open.

Speaking to The Hindu on Wednesday, the day when the qualifying phase of the singles events were scheduled here, a determined Sharath said, “I am here to win back my title. I’ve trained hard to be in good shape and I am playing well.

“Honestly, before arriving here, I was not very satisfied with my frame of mind but now I am getting the ‘feel’ of my game. The National title is important to me.”

Talking about the lows of the past 18 months, Sharath admitted, “I think, a lot of negative thoughts surrounded me and I could not see the positives out of my defeats. Instead of thinking of what good can happen to game, I thought of what has happened to my game. I put too much pressure on myself.”

Focussed on this year’s Commonwealth championship in Delhi and the World championship in Paris, both in May, Sharath said, “I wish these events were scheduled in the reverse order. Personally, I would have preferred to be fresh for the World championship. But when it comes to the country, I know that Commonwealth championship is more important.”

For the first time in many years, having played just two domestic events this season, Sharath finds himself out top-four bracket of the National rankings. The fifth-ranked Sharath lost the inter-institutional final to top-ranked Soumyajit Ghosh in Kolkata and won the South Zone title in Bangalore.

With the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) opting to go by the National rankings, and not the world rankings, Sharath was seeded sixth in the list released on Wednesday.

The seedings: Men: 1. Soumyajit Ghosh (Pet), 2. Sanil Shetty (Pet), 3. Soumyadeep Roy (Pet), 4. Harmeet Desai (Guj), 5. A. Amalraj (Pet), 6. Sharath Kamal, 7. Subhajit Saha, 8. Zubin Kumar (Raj).

Women: 1. Poulomi Ghatak (Pet), 2. K. Shamini (Pet), 3. Ankita Das (Pet), 4. Madhurima Patkar (Pet), 5. Divya Deshpande (Maha ‘A’), 6. Manika Batra (Del), 7. Pooja Sahasrabudhe (Pet), 8. Mousmi Paul (WB).

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