Paddle talk

in top gear Sharath Kamal Photo: R. Ragu

in top gear Sharath Kamal Photo: R. Ragu  

A ware of the disastrous results it would lead to, I still ask Sharath Kamal to do what he does best — play a game of Table Tennis … with me. “Hold the ball in your palm and serve,” he advises. Sensing my talent or rather lack of it, he feeds me slow, lofty serves. To salvage my pride, I ask him to play his normal game. He obliges. And before I can blink, the ball zig zags and whooshes past me. “All right, try getting this one, it'll come to your left,” Sharath says, trying to be helpful. In spite of the cue, I miss it. “They say I've one of the fastest serves in the game,” he grins.

Now, what can one do if you're playing against India's leading Table Tennis player, who has been courting the game from the age of five?

“I don't even remember when I started playing. My father Srinivasa Rao and uncle Muralidhara Rao were State-level players. When I was a child, my father used to carry me in his arms and make me play. In fact, my father and uncle are my coaches; my younger brother Rajath Kamal, too, played at the National level before a shoulder injury forced him out of the game,” says Sharath, who is currently based out of Germany. “I've been staying there for five years now. I play club leagues for TSV Graefelfing, a club in Munich. I had to relocate because I wanted to improve and play against the world's best.”

When he was nine, Sharath had already played at the State level and was reigning supreme in the Under-12 and Under-14 categories. But, his success story didn't quite translate to the Nationals.

At that time, he also had to choose between taking up engineering or continuing with the sport he was so passionate about. “I had a good offer from Anna University. If I passed my Class XII, I'd get a seat in engineering. But, I continued playing TT, and after struggling for five years, made it to the National top five,” says this alumnus of Padma Seshadri. By the time he turned 21, he had replaced Chetan Baboor as India's No. 1, a ranking he's been holding for seven years now.

This Arjuna awardee has had an excellent run so far. That's quite apparent from the three, ceiling-high showcases full of medals and trophies, in Sharath's living room.

This year, at the Commonwealth Games, he won a gold medal along with Subojit Saha in the doubles, and a bronze in the team event as well as in the singles.

Prior to that, he became the first Indian to win the Pro-Tour Egypt Open in July and the U.S. Open in June. The 2010 Asian Games may not have added to his medals tally, but the National Championship did, and that too for the fifth time.

Exciting times

There is good news on the family front as well. “We are expecting our first baby. It's due in February. I want to be here when that happens,” says the 28-year-old who got married in July last. And yes, it's a love marriage with a rather filmy story. “Sripoorni, my wife, was working with an ad agency. Somebody was doing a book and her agency was in charge of the cover page. They wanted to feature me and she had come to interview me.” That's how the two got to know each other. Laughing, he adds: “What surprises me even now is how she managed to keep our relationship a secret from her parents during the two years that we dated.”

Given the allure of cricket in this country, what does the future look like for Table Tennis? Sharath feels that with a lot of good money coming into the game, this racquet sport has a bright future. He seems particularly impressed by the Under-18 team, and says: “I've noticed the game gain popularity since the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games (incidentally, he won an individual gold there), and more and more children are taking it up seriously.”


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