India’s stay at the Asian Cup Table Tennis tournament lasted a day and two hours. As Manika Batra lost her match to world No 6 Miu Hirano of China in the challenger round, India’s campaign came to an end at The Arena by Transstadia in Ahmedabad last Sunday.

However, India’s national coach Massimo Costantini wasn’t surprised with the result. He looked on calmly as Batra left the court dejected. “We knew the competition was going to be very tough,” he said.

“For India, Asian competitions are always tough because the best table tennis players in the world come from Asia. We are in the wrong place on the planet. However, it is a good opportunity because we have the chance to improve when we face them. I didn’t expect more of what we have already done.”

Called Max by everyone in the table tennis fraternity, Costantini was impressed by Batra’s showing at the championship. “Manika impressed me though. She beat a player higher ranked than her. Even against the world No 6 she proved that she can play at a high level. It all comes down to mentality. I am still working on their perception and their capabilities. We have the same skills as others but we don’t apply them like the way we should.”

Mentality to blame?

Batra took the second game against the world No 6 11-8 to come on level terms. However, the third game went to Chinese by a similar scoreline. Harmeet Desai was also taken to five games by two of his opponents. Indians go the distance but fail to finish off the match. Costantini blames the mentality.

“If you are locked at 10-10 during a game and you choose to defend instead of attack, which is your strong point, then your mentality is wrong,” he said. “If you are afraid to take chances or make mistakes then it is wrong. Manika had five unforced errors against the world No 6 and that is not a good thing. Players need to understand that we have a chance to win and we shouldn’t lose the opportunity.”

On Desai’s and A Sharath Kamal’s performance, Costantini said, “Harmeet came into the tournament recuperating from high fever. He was ill four days before the tournament and we were considering replacing him. He lost two matches that he could have won. It wasn’t the Harmeet I know. I know he has huge potential. Lack of focus and weak body was the reason behind it ouster. Sharath couldn’t do much. He was in a group with much higher ranked players.”

On the right track

However, Costantini, who previously coached India during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, said that the team was on the right track. “They tried their best, I know. Our target as I have said previously is the Commonwealth Games and world championships. We can do well in the team events in both men’s and women’s. Even the Asian Games is important and also difficult. Last year we were close to making the top four in the Asian Championship. Overall we are on the right track. We still have around 200 days before the CWG and it can do wonders.”

But does the Indian team need a mental trainer? “Everyone needs a mental trainer including me,” said Costantini. “If you want to perform you need someone who understands you and the game. Mental aspect is very important during a performance. I would rather ask for a mental trainer for me because I have to advise the players during the match. If they can guide me then I can guide the player. A mental trainer is a must. But even other countries don’t appoint one I believe.”

Max’s second innings

So what has driven the Italian to once again come and coach the Indian team? “As I said before, it was the unfinished business back then in 2010. I was doing so well plus I had so many ideas but my term was cut short. I was frustrated after that for almost two years. I wanted to come back because I had a feeling we could do something great. That was the motivation. I know they did poor in the CWG, Rio Olympics. We can regret it but it is in the past.”

The 59-year-old, however, feels that a lot has changed in the past and India has only become better since the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “Many things are different from CWG 2010 to CWG 2018. The interest has increased and the federation has become more professional as well. Plus their some investment from the players as well. Manika, Harmeet are going to Austria on their own cost and they know they have to play foreign tournaments to improve their game. We work on a particular budget and hence we pick and choose. In 2009 we had nothing like this. This time India is going to present a very solid time especially the men in the 2018 CWG. We have chances in every event to finish on the podium.”