Former champion Sharath Kamal is eager to use the stage of the Commonwealth table tennis championship to prove more than a point.
With the World, Olympic and Asian titles realistically out of reach for the Indians, the honour in Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Championships is what players like Sharath aim to achieve. What more, this 30-year-old knows what it takes to win, having held these titles and a few more to remain the country’s flag-bearer in the game.
In the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Sharath was a gold medallist in doubles after settling for bronze medals in singles and team event. Sharath now has a chance to re-establish himself.
The aura of invincibility he once enjoyed among his peers in the country is lost.
A. Amalraj beat him a few times, took away his National title in 2012 and then blocked his passage to the London Olympics. Soumyajit Ghosh, the Olympic qualifier at the expense of Amalraj, denied Sharath the National title this January.
But in the international arena, Sharath remains India’s spearhead. His ranking of 69 is way ahead of the nearest compatriots Amalraj (150) and Soumyajit Ghosh (189).
No wonder then, the premier German club, Borussia Dusseldorf last month signed-up Sharath for the season starting this August till May next year.
It is pertinent to note that the club, multiple-winner of the prestigious Champions League, is the most sought-after in Europe.
It is served by former world No. 1 Timo Boll, currently ranked fifth and the strongest non-Chinese in the game. Sharath will join Timo and Patrick Baum, ranked 29th, by replacing Christian Suss who is out of action following a knee-surgery in March.
“It is a huge step forward for me to play as part of the best club in Europe,” said Sharath even as he stayed focussed on the job on hand.
“This Indian team is pretty strong. But it is very tough to look beyond the second place on the podium. Singapore, even without (two-time champion) Gao Ning, will be very tough to beat.
“In the singles, I can win the gold. I see a tough opponent in the quarterfinals since I am the third highest-ranked player in the field after Singapore’s Zhang Jian (ranked 26th) and Li Hu (56th). I defeated Li Hu in our only meeting. I can meet Andrew Baggaley (England) or even Amalraj for a place in the semifinals, depending on the draw,” he said.
In the Asian Cup last month, Sharath won twice to top his pool before losing to world No. 31 Tang Peng (Hong Kong) in the match to decide the qualifiers to the knockout stage.
Sharath, who won the doubles gold with Subhajit Saha in the previous edition of the championship in 2009, will team up again with his old friend.
“It is important for me win in doubles. Here too, Singapore pairs will be the one to beat. In the coming days, Saha and I are going to work hard to repeat our success,” said Sharath who has lost four kilograms while training under the supervision of Benedict Schmidt, the trainer of the German national team.
Indeed, there is no dearth of motivation for Sharath to give it all in this edition of the Commonwealth championship.