Sharath Kamal aiming a top-16 finish in Olympics

August 7th, 2008 - 2:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) India’s table tennis record in Olympics is nothing to boast of. A. Sharath Kamal, who will spearhead India’s challenge in Beijing, is no greenhorn and has set a realistic target for the Games. Sharath Kamal, regarded as one of the best talents the country has produced in the sport, has improved by several notches since his second round finish at the Athens Olympics. But the country’s top paddler knows the going would be tough at Beijing.

“It is the toughest of competitions. Everybody wants to do well in the Olympics. But one has to be pragmatic,” Sharath Kamal told IANS.

Sharath Kamal would have young Neha Aggrawal for company in his discipline in Beijing, but the chances of a podium finish is not what the duo is aiming at.

Sharath Kamal’s target — cause a few upsets and enter the pre-quarterfinal phase.

The 26-year-old player is currently ranked 73 in the world singles chart, a massive advance after being placed 172 four years back during the Athens Olympics. The Chennai man also has gained considerable international exposure in these four years with some major victories under his belt.

“I am in good shape and form. If I get a favourable draw then certainly I can make it to the last 16. For that I have to beat one top-50 guy and one close-to-top-20 guy,” Sharath Kamal says about his expectations from the Beijing Olympics.

The last two years have been phenomenal for Sharath Kamal. He led India to an incredible two gold medals in the Commonwealth Games (CWG), winning the singles title and then inspiring the team to another yellow metal triumph with an upset over formidable Singapore in what is regarded as the mother-of-all-comebacks final.

“That was one of the best experiences in my career. It was amazing to win two gold medals in the Commonwealth Games. But Olympics is a different ball game altogether,” says Sharath Kamal.

The Melbourne Commonwealth Games not only made the paddler a recognisable face in Indian sport, but expectations from him soared. Since then, it has been a steady upward climb for Sharath Kamal, who cracked the top-100 in singles ranking and achieved his career-best 73.

But more importantly, Sharath Kamal says, the highs of the last two years have instilled a self-belief that he can take on the formidable Asian players with confidence.

“My stint in Spain where I play for San Sebastian club has also been a turning point in my career. Besides keeping myself busy round the year, I get to play against top quality players from Europe regularly. My game has improved a lot.

“It has been a huge difference since I played in Athens. I have gained in world rankings, close to 100 places. I made a lot of technical correction, my speed has increased and my response is faster now. But the experience of playing in Athens will be of big help.” Sharath Kamal says, analysing the finer points of his game.

He has set out a tough training regime for the Olympics and is happy with the preparation.

“I’ve been training hard for the last two months. I sparred with players from Greece, France and Europe. I reached pre-quarterfinals in the Chile Open, the last international tournament that I played in April. I beat world number 26 Tang Peng of Hong Kong there. So overall, I am satisfied with my form before the Olympics,” he says.

Sharath also says much should not be expected from Neha this time because it is her maiden Olympics.

“It will be a good experience for her. She is a good prospect for the country. She is a fighter and willing to learn. She has a lot of capability. But we just have to wait and give her time.”

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