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Sharath confident of good show, Paddler says winning an Olympic medal in mixed doubles is a real possibility
India’s top-ranked men’s paddler Sharath Kamal Achanta is no stranger to the Olympic Games. Having pulled on the national team jersey in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and Rio de Janeiro (2016), Sharath is gearing up for what is likely to be his final appearance at the Games.
And Tokyo 2020, which had to be delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the last chance saloon for the veteran to win an Olympic medal. Sharath will have two cracks at it as he will compete in both men’s singles and mixed doubles events. A few days before making the trip to the Japanese capital, World No.32 Sharath spoke to DT Next about his preparations, chances at the Olympics and more.
How good have the preparations been in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympic Games?
I had a schedule in place so that I would be able to give my best in both events. For mixed doubles, Manika Batra and I trained with quite a few sparring partners at the national camp in Sonepat. As far as singles is concerned, I have been actively training since qualifying for the Olympics in March. In fact, I began my preparations back in September 2020. I knew that I would qualify; qualification was never an issue. Considering the COVID-19 situation last year and the challenges it posed, I knew that I had to start my work earlier than usual.
Could you give us an insight into how you fine-tuned your singles game?
I had four to five players as my singles sparring partners. I played them on a rotational basis. I kept changing my sparring partner because I needed variety. I felt that I needed a bunch of players to help me improve my game. Some players are good offensively while some are good defensively. So, I took out the positives from their game and constantly kept working.
What do you make of your chances in men’s singles?
In singles, this is my highest ranking – No.32 – heading into the Olympic Games. I have never been in this position before. Fitness-wise, I am in great shape. I am pretty sure that Tokyo 2020 will be my best Olympics in terms of both performance and results.
You will pair up with Manika Batra in mixed doubles, whose draw consists of only 16 teams. Is bagging a medal in that event a possibility?
It is very much possible as our major chance lies there. We have high hopes on it. If we win three matches, we will come back with a medal. Asia is the powerhouse of table tennis. After winning a bronze medal in the mixed doubles event at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, we realised that we are capable of making it to the podium at the Olympics. The belief was always there, but the dream turned into reality only in 2018. We have been in good form and that gives us more confidence.
Tokyo 2020 will be your fourth Olympics. Do you think your previous experiences at the Games will come in handy in challenging circumstances?
The COVID-19 situation is something new. I have had to do a list of things even before boarding the plane to Tokyo. So, the concentration is not completely on the sport. Safety is something that has to be taken care of. Overall, I am still trying to figure out how to go about the whole process. But once the Olympics begins, I will be in my zone. My on-court experience will help me when it comes to handling pressure situations.
You recently turned 39 and are at the fag end of your career. How supportive has your family been in this journey?
I have been able to pursue my passion for such a long time only because of my family’s support. I must thank my wife. Only because of her can I go out and do what I want to do best without worrying about things at time.