WHEN THE men’s singles category matches start in the 82nd Senior National Table Tennis Tournament at Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex, Sector 3, on Saturday, followed by the main draw matches on Sunday, nine-time national champion and world number 32 Sharath Kamal will not only be eyeing his tenth national title but also some valuable experience ahead of the WTT Contenders and World and Asian Qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics, to be held in Doha next month.
Kamal, who is top seeded in the men’s singles category, will face a tough challenge from world number 37 G Sathiyan apart from defending champion Harmeet Desai and youngster Manav Thakkar, and the three-time Olympian paddler sounded confident of adding his tenth national title in his kitty.
“Most of us have not played in a tournament since the last 11 months and the senior nationals is the best tournament to start competitive table tennis since the best players are here. I can break my own record of nine titles and win my tenth senior national title…Harmeet will be looking to defend his title and Manav too will be aiming to win his maiden title. Apart from them, there are talented youngsters like Arjun Ghosh, S Snehit, Jeet Chandra and Ronit Bhanja and it will be a competitive top 16. This will be the second time that I am playing in Tricity and I am looking forward to the return to competitive circuit after such a long break,” shared Kamal.
Last year, the 38-year-old had scored a 4-2 (6-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 17-15) win over top seed Marcos Freitas of Portugal to claim the title in the Oman open, his first pro tour title since 2010, before Covid-19 forced all the domestic and international tournaments to be cancelled or postponed.
Post the lockdown, Kamal was part of the senior camp at Sonepat from October to December last year before he organised a training camp for elite players at his hometown Chennai in January this year.
The camp at Chennai saw the players train under Kamal’s father and Dronacharya awardee coach A Srinivasa Rao and Kamal rates the training at Sonepat and Chennai as perfect preparation for the nationals and other tournaments.
“Physically, most of us are very fit as we focused on fitness during the lockdown. Training at Sonepat and Chennai helped us gain some good practice time. The only question is about match fitness and mental sharpness and we all will get to know here. Only Harmeet and Sathyan have played in last 11 months as Harmeet played in Europe and Sathyan played in Japan and Poland. So it will be a challenge and testing time here,” added Kamal.
While the Indian players including Kamal will head to Doha on February 25 later this month for the WTT Contender (February 28-March 6) and WTT Star Contender (March 5-13) ) followed by the World Qualifiers (March 14-17) and Asian Qualifiers (March 18-20) for Tokyo Olympics, Kamal sees the experience in playing back to back five tournaments a challenging one.
The world number 32 also believes that it will also help him to be in better shape of mind for the world and Asian qualifiers, where the quota places for Tokyo Olympics would be on offer.
“Talking in terms of playing in successive tournaments, it will be for the first time that I will play in five successive tournaments including the nationals. It will also help us to be in better shape for the world and Asian qualifiers. Yes, staying in the bio-bubble for more than 25 days will be a challenge but then it’s the new normal for all of us,” says Kamal.
While Kamal can seal the Olympics quota in Doha, he is also hopefull of getting the mixed doubles quota place along with 2018 CWG champion Manika Batra.
“I am confident that two of us can get the Olympics quota either through world or Asian qualifiers. The mixed doubles quota will be also important and we feel that we can seal the quota. The federation has given us all the support we wanted. We have been training with the DHS DJ 40+ ball and the qualifiers will also be played on black top tables, which is also the case here at the nationals and it will help us,” concluded Kamal.
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