The table tennis game changer

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From lone wolf to pack member, Sharath Kamal has played a lone hand for India in table tennis.

Say hello to Indian table tennis statesman Sharath Kamal, who has nearly two decades of sporting history.

Most athletes have a dream. A dream that brought them into the sports arena. A dream that pushes them to work hard every day during their sports career. For Sharath Kamal it was the best in every game he played, which he has proven in his long career. Being the best paddler in the country, Sharath holds the title of first-ever medalist for many international tournaments, be it the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games.

Catching up with the table tennis champion, Sharath Kamal talks about his journey with the sport and its nuances. Extracts:

1. What inspired you to make table tennis your profession?

My father started coaching before I was born and at 3 he took me to the club. When I was 4, I started playing table tennis and my parents told me I used to wake my dad up early for practice. Slowly I started to improve myself and became the best of Tamil Nadu in different categories. There was a time when I had to decide whether I wanted to play sports professionally or pursue scientific and technical studies. In tenth grade, I took up commerce and played table tennis professionally. It was a difficult decision, but my parents supported me.

2.Tell us about your journey and the obstacles you have encountered in your sporting journey.

Let’s say that at the start, I had difficulties especially financial because sport was not a profession at the time. Even after winning international tournaments, people asked me what I was studying because it was an academic scenario. The people who played with me quit the sport and used it to get sports quota admissions. In addition, as a sportsman, the gains were difficult. Slowly, I did well in the nationals and wanted to enter the international circuit but India did not have a good infrastructure. So I moved abroad to Europe for high level training but had to decide where to go, which club to join and what expenses it would cost. Fortunately, I settled there, I found good clubs and little by little, I entered the international arena. I made an identity for myself and barged in, now people are happy to hire me because Indian players have a good reputation and do the job. Personally, I have been married for 10 years and have two children, but I do not spend enough time with them. They made more sacrifices than I did.

3.When you are in the field, what is the first thing you do before entering and what is this strategy that you always follow?

It has changed over time but I calm down and push higher, knowing my exact mental state. I listen to music and the playlist is constantly changing. The musical genre changes, subjective because it depends on my anxiety or the type of match I’m going to play.

The strategy is to be aggressive and get my shots because I don’t have a defensive game for the win. I use it against everyone and they know it but I’m good at what I do which helps me.

4.Faced with a career threatening injury in 2015, how has your game changed? What made you push? What is your favorite shot?

In 2015, I was away from sports for almost six months. I was on the wheelchair and then on poles, my future was bleak. The doctors weren’t sure if I was back, but I went into rehab. It was depressing because table tennis is my identity. It was a difficult time and thanks to my wife I did not slip into depression. I fought and prepared for the Rio Olympics because I missed the London Olympics. From 2012 to 2015 my wife told me to focus on sports while taking care of the kids. It was difficult but I had a goal to achieve that allowed me to continue. I didn’t do well in Rio but I’m glad I at least had a chance.

My top forehand is my trademark. Everyone knows Sharath Kamal is playing the biggest and the best of the best can’t hit me back.

5.Named after the pioneer of Indian table tennis, how do you feel about winning world tournaments and receiving honorary awards from the Indian government? How did your family react?

My family is proud of what I do. For the Oman Open, I literally fought with my wife to get there because there was the corona virus, but I told her it was important for qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. But when I won the tournament, she was proud. In 2005, when I received the Arjuna Prize, my mother collected it on my behalf from APJ Abdul Kalam. For her it was a proud moment and that honor was the best thing I could give her. In 2010, I won gold at the Commonwealth Games. My mom was the first person I hugged and was almost in tears.

6.Tell us about your fitness routine. How to stay motivated during confinement?

At the beginning, it was hard because I finished my preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. In sports, you have a term called periodization, which means taking a look at your physical and mental performance. Over time I have come to understand my body and it is not a complete proof plane because the mind is involved in it. But I was on the right track, I won the Oman Open and things fell into place. I started to prepare from November 2019 and put myself to the test to be in shape. Now I have stopped everything and have to start over but I don’t have a roadmap. The main thing that motivates me is to do well at the Olympics.

7.You trained under the guidance of your father and uncle, shed light on the main takeaways.

It is not easy to be a coach and a father because I can see it with my children. My dad and uncle decided that all my dad wanted to tell me was through my uncle. My uncle was the coach because we respected him, didn’t respond and kept our distance.

8.A lesson in life that you would pass on to your two children or to anyone who encourages you to play sports.

Sport should be an integral part of your life. It teaches you to be engaged, to work hard to achieve your goals, and to manage your time. We learn to face failure, it breaks you but in sport, you face it every day. You will work hard and lose, but you will come back to the test, which teaches you a lot. Second, managing success is important that people don’t understand. How you should absorb success but keep working hard because once you achieve something you think that’s it but no, you have more to accomplish. And if you’re at the top, everyone wants to take your place, so keep moving forward.


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