Tamilnadu’s new TT Trinity

By A Harsha Vardhan Published on Apr 29, 2018 03:56 PM IST

Chennai: Out of the eight medals the Indian table tennis team got at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG) held in Gold Coast, Chennai lads Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Amalraj Anthony Arputharaj were directly instrumental in bagging four of them.

The Indian paddlers are now all set to conquer uncharted territory in Halmstad, Sweden, where they play for the first time in the first division of World Table Tennis Championships (29 April to 6 May).

Speaking to News Today, the Table Tennis Trinity informed that they are confident of a top-10 finish and believe India even has a good chance to bag an Olympic medal in 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Here are excerpts from the conversation we had with the trio.

What are the chances of India winning a medal in TT at the World Championship?

Sathiyan: We play for the first time in the first division championship of the 24-nation tournament. We have been grouped with France, Korea, Austria, Croatia and Poland. Some of us have already won against players from these countries in tournaments like the UTT. A lot of expectations are riding on us. But, pressure is a privilege. If England can win a world championship medal, why not India? We have, in fact, done better than England in CWG.

Sharath: We are placed in a pretty good draw. With a strong CWG performance, everyone is confident and we can probably win a medal here. This is the best that India has ever performed surpassing the world No. 12 ranking when legends like Chandrasekhar were playing.

Has CWG success created a revolution in TT like in badminton?

Sathiyan: First of all, table tennis won more medals for India in CWG than badminton. It shows the sport is growing at quite a fast clip. It is because of our coach Massimov's hands-on approach that we are reaping the benefits.

Amalraj: Yes. And, if you see Manika Batra's performance in TT (she won a gold in singles, silver in women's doubles and bronze in mixed doubles), it was equal to Saina's performance in badminton. She created history. Sharath played the best table tennis of his life on so many different levels. Table tennis is now different. It will now reach the level of badminton in India

Has the IPL style, Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league, introduced last year, made a positive difference?

Sathiyan: Usually, it is Indians who go abroad and play with top players. With UTT, top players are coming down here. We already have two top 10 players in the league. There will be bigger names coming this year. But it is not just about the league, it is also about improving Indian player's standards. The foreign players want to come down to India and play with us. In the future, with more games, leagues and tournaments, it is only going to get better.

Amalraj: We also have to look at the fact that UTT is only one-year old and happens only for one month. The rest of the 11 months we need the exposure to go out of the country and play to get used to the conditions abroad. So, let us see how UTT develops.

In 2014 CWG, India won only one medal. But, this time, we got 8. What changed?

Amalraj: We put in a lot of hard work. The federation, SAI, Indian government combined together and supported us. Our coach Massimo Costantini helped a lot. He does all the administrative work and makes sure players are not running behind anyone for approvals. He focuses on specific players and specific tactics.

Sharath: Massimo has made a difference. He has been a very lucky coach for us. In 2010, when he coached us, we got five medals. After six years, when he signed back, now we have eight medals. His administrative skills, planning, training and choosing tournaments are all organised.

Sathiyan: He put a proper system in place. With Massimo coming in, we have more foreign training camps, playing more tournaments and more money is being pumped into the sport. In the last three years, I've played almost 50 tournaments. That is why in my first game at CWG, I didn't feel the pressure of playing in a big event, and won three medals.

Where does Indian TT go from here?

Sathiyan: The sport is getting bigger and bigger. So, people get to play more often. I'm happy that we could set an example in CWG and the future will be even better. As for myself, my target is to get climb from world No. 49 to 20 within this year. We are also aiming at the Asian Championship at Jakarta in August.

Amalraj: Earlier, it was only Sharath Kamal who was winning for India. We now have so many players shining on the international stage.

Sharath: Our main aim is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We have a chance to get a team medal for the country.