Table tennis

China were ‘very concerned’ about playing us: India’s table tennis coach Massimo Costantini

The Italian coach said that the Indian team got a lot of respect from everyone at the world championships earlier this month.

The historic Commonwealth Games performance of the Manika Batra-led Indian women paddlers created such a buzz that even traditional powerhouse China came looking for the videos of their performance at the recent world championships, said chief national coach Massimo Costantini.

India delivered its best performance in table tennis at the CWG, bagging a record haul of eight medals, including a historic gold in the women’s team and singles event last month. It was largely made possible by Batra, who ended up winning four medals, the most by an Indian at Gold Coast.

“We are getting a lot of respect from everyone,” said Costantini. “When we were playing China in the World Championships [earlier this May], they were very concerned about playing us. Some of the coaches like China’s coach even asked for the video of the match in which India beat Singapore [to win the CWG gold].”

Costantini, who also served as the chief coach of the national team from early 2009 till the end of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, played a vital role in the squad’s CWG success. A month later, he guided the men’s team to finish 13th in the Championship Division of the World Team Championships at Halmstad in Sweden.

‘Didn’t expect much’ from women

However, the Batra-led women’s team was not able to take the winning momentum of the CWG forward and finished a dismal 17th, winning just one tie in the campaign. Asked about the reason behind the drastic drop in performance of the women, the former USA coach said he saw it coming.

“I didn’t expect much from the women because I knew they won’t be able to recover after such a great performance [at the CWG]. There was a physiological drop. I could see Manika was not sharp, she wasn’t responding well, she wasn’t ready,” he said.

However, quick to come to the team’s defence, the 60-year-old said it’s not the team’s fault as consistency comes with experience. “It’s not their fault because when you have such a good performance you can’t recover in one week as they are not used to it.

“The men are used to playing international games week after week. Our women are not ready. I am working on making them understand their responsibilities, making them learn how to get rid of the pressure of the previous match, handle exposure and reset themselves in short time.”

The Italian coach expected more from the men than the women. “The men were participating for the first time in the championship division,” he said. “They were playing to make history. I thought with this team and the opponents they should have reached the top 12 but we just missed the mark by a little bit.”

Hoping for good Asian Games draw

The Asian Games in August-September will be a much tougher challenge than CWG but Costantini feels a favourable draw could help India pull-off something special. “Success of the Asian Games will depend on the draw, if we are unlucky we will be playing China. I’m not saying it is impossible to beat them but it will be a difficult task.”

The Asian Games are to be held in Jakarta and will see participation from table-tennis powerhouse China, besides other top teams such as South and North Korea and Japan. “Preparations will be key and the pro tournaments in Korea and Australia will tell us how the Asian games will be,” Costantini said.

“Before the CWG we played in Qatar, Poland and Germany and Manika performed well in all of them so that’s why I had a feeling she will do well in the CWG. Right now I want them to reach the lowest level of their form because from there only I can start my rebuilding process,” the jovial Italian said.

Manika became the toast of the nation after her sensational performance in Gold Coast and the coach feels she is growing into an ideal role model for the women’s game in India. “Manika is emerging as a world-class player. She is rising to be the perfect role model for women taking up TT in India. This is a big cultural improvement because now people feel they can also be an international player like Manika, Sharath and Sathiyan,” he added.

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