Indian paddlers are highly skillful but they must work harder on their fitness to compete at the highest level, feels world number five and four-time Olympic medallist Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
“Indians score high on skills, I have learnt a lot by practicing with them. But the reason they are not able break into the top-10 and top 20s is fitness. If India can create a proper structure for its players, I am pretty confident these very talented players can be among the very best,” Ovtcharov told PTI on the sidelines of the ITTF World Tour India Open.
He has come to India for the second time, a place where he won his ITTF Pro Tour event almost seven years ago. A lot has changed for him since then, having won a bagful of medals at the Olympics and World Championships, both for himself and Germany.
The 28-year-old Ukrainian-born’s assessment on the Indian table tennis players is based on the time spent with them in Germany. India’s finest Sharath Kamal is his close friend and they both train together in Germany. He has also practiced with fast improving Indians such as Soumyajit Ghosh and Harmeet Desai.
“I feel all the top Indian players should practice together more often than they do. It will be better if they spend more time together playing leagues in Europe than being here. In Europe, the structure is already in place and they get to play with the best.
“Obviously, having events of this stature here in India can only help,” said Ovtcharov, who is the biggest name playing here in the absence of the Chinese.
It was not memorable 2016 for the German, who lost the singles quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics to Vladimir Samsonov. He is back to his best but says it will be tougher to win the title here than 2010.
He had beaten Sharath comprehensively back then and posing a stiff challenge for him is the Japanese presence in the field.
“A lot has changed since 2010. I have been able to achieve a lot and there is a lot more that I have to accomplish. It is not easy to wake up every day and train for six hours. You just have to keep working hard. I also do a lot of yoga which helps me stay focusesd, calms me down,” he said.
Ovtcharov, alongside Timo Ball, has been the leading the European challenge against the mighty Asian bloc especially the Chinese, finishing second best more often than not.
Can the Chinese wall ever be broken? “Why not. But as of now that they are simply too good. If there are 30-40 champion players available in China, there are only three four in Europe who can compete with them. That is the major difference,” said the German, who is one of few foreigners to have played in the Chinese league.
Talking about the experience at the India Open, Ovtcharov says it is one of the best venues he has played in.
“More and more events like these should be conducted in India. A lot of players are preparing for the World Championships and probably that is why some of them could not turn up. I hope it is staged year after year and then there is bound to be better participation. Personally, I would love to come back,” he added without confirming his presence in the inaugural Indian Table Tennis League in July.