| New Delhi
Sharath Kamal (Photo: IANS)
India’s star paddler Sharath Kamal, who recently broke into the top-50 of the ITTF World Rankings at 44th position, has set his sights further high amid a tight table tennis schedule comprising Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league and Asian Cup, ahead of the Commonwealth Games next year.
“My main focus in the next 10 months will be on the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. These are two major events we are looking ahead for. Apart from this, there will be Asian Cup in September that is going to happen in Ahmedabad. My aim is to break into top-30 by December,” Kamal told thestatesman.com in an interview.
The 34-year-old returned to a good form as his top-50 appearance came after a leap of two years following a groin injury.
When asked about his preparations for the Commonwealth Games, the tournament from where he has won three golds and a bronze so far, Kamal said he’s happy to see himself on the right track.
“Preparations have been really good. I am happy that we are on the right track now. Everyone is playing well. The World Championships ended on a positive note and I am back in the top-50 rankings. It came after two long years,” he said.
Being the veteran among the current lot of paddlers in India, Kamal is going to be the prime face of the Ultimate Table Tennis, India’s first-ever TT league.
“I am quite excited as it’s a fantastic project. I think this should take Indian table tennis to a different level as we’ll have access to the top players and foreign coaches. The access to knowledge is available in such tournaments. It’ll be a great learning experience for Indian paddlers,” Kamal said.
The paddler from Tamil Nadu has played various foreign leagues, with the German league being his favourite, where he played for seven years.
“This is just a beginning of the Indian league so the basic difference is the duration. The German league runs for around 10 months in a year. Indian league will start with a three-week duration. But I believe, with four-five years down the line, the duration will also improve,” Kamal said, comparing the two leagues.
Advocating for a longer duration for the growth of table tennis in India, Kamal said: “With longer duration, there will be more matches to play, more exposure for the young paddlers. So it’ll be better for the growth of table tennis.”
The Arjuna awardee believes that league is more fun because it’s a team tournament and a player gets to play matches every weekend, for which he can practice in the weekdays.
Kamal was picked by RP-SG Mavericks for the inaugural edition of the UTT. He called the team ‘strong’ and seemed confident to start well.
“We have two players from the top-20 rankings as our foreign players and myself on it. We have young talent also, including Archana Kamath. As a team, it’ll take time for us to gain momentum as there will new rules in the game and we all will be playing together,” he said.
Being the ace paddler from India, Kamal carries a lot of fans’ expectations when he comes on to the court.
“I’ve been the best player for a long time for now. Every time I come to court, Indians expect me to win. It’s not easy to handle that kind of pressure. My entire head has become gray. So, I am just able to survive with the pressure,” Kamal concluded with a bright smile.
UTT will be played in three legs with the first leg to be held in Chennai (13-20 July), followed by the second leg in New Delhi (21-26 July) and the final leg in Mumbai (27-30 July).
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