Two of A Sharath Kamal’s three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games were won in Australia and it is this little statistic which is driving India’s finest table tennis player to go for another double in the Gold Coast edition next month.
In all probability, the upcoming mega-event from April 4 to 15 will be the last CWG appearance for the 35-year-old, who has been leading India’s mantle in the racket sport since 2006 Melbourne Games when he exceeded expectations by winning the team as well as the singles gold.
Sharath has his name on all the three gold medals India has won at the quadrennial competition and factoring in his recent form, he thinks he can add at least another two yellow metal to his overall kitty.
The Indian stunned world number 7 Koki Niwa at the Qatar Open earlier this month for “the biggest win of his career”.
“I feel we have a good chance in all four categories (singles, team, doubles and mixed doubles). It is easily the strongest men’s squad we have fielded at the Commonwealth Games,” Sharath told PTI, referring to the fact that India has as many as six players in the top-100 of ITTF men’s rankings.
“The ranking system has changed completely and the more you play, the better it is. That is one of the reasons why six of us are in the top-100. Having said that, the boys are doing really well and we really have a strong squad.”
Sharath has managed to maintain a top-100 spot in the last decade but he was way outside the bracket in the Melbourne edition 12 years ago with India number two Soumyadeep Roy being outside top-200.
The Chennai-based paddler says India has indeed come a long way since Melbourne but rival countries like England and Nigeria have improved drastically too.
Teams from both nations got the better of India in Glasgow four years ago, when the country ended with just one silver, its worst show at the Games in terms of medal count.
“CWG is the only major multi-sporting event where we are expected to win medals. So considering that, the Glasgow performance was a huge disappointment. Because of that there is going to be extra pressure in Gold Coast but we are ready,” world number 71 Sharath said.
Singapore is another rival but barring 33rd-ranked Gao Ning, there is no other player who poses a threat to India. The Massimo Costantini-coached Indian squad is preparing in Europe at the moment and will be back home on Sunday.
“The preparations have been good since September. I was happy to win the nationals (a record 8th trophy), it gave me the momentum I needed. Things I have been working on, both physically and mentally, have come along finally.”
His forehand has always been his biggest asset but now a consistent backhand has boosted his game.
“It is the main reason I was able to beat Koki Niwa. He did not see it coming.”
In the singles this time, he will also get stiff competition from his teammates Soumyajit Ghosh (rank 58th) and G Sathiyan, who is now the highest-ranked Indian at 49.
“Playing against your countryman is most difficult. You always want to beat the players from other countries but it is mentally much tougher when you are against a fellow Indian, with whom you train and spend a lot of time. Let’s see how it goes in Gold Coast,” added the soft-spoken Sharath.