The Tokyo Olympics is only a year away but Indian table tennis’ new foreign coach Dejan Papic is yet to join the national team, affecting the paddlers’ preparation for the showpiece event, PTI reported.
In March, the Table Tennis Federation of India had roped in Papic as chief coach in place of long-serving Massimo Costantini, who quit last year citing personal reasons.
Under Costantini, India had made rapid strides with historic performances at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and Jakarta Asian Games, where India ended a 60-year-wait for a table tennis medal. But now the players are left to fend for themselves.
“Massimo [Costantini] had to go for some family issues and after that a coach was finalised but we don’t know when he will be joining. Without a coach it is difficult to prepare for the Olympics,” said veteran Sharath Kamal.
Papic had interacted with the senior Indian players during the World individual championships in Budapest. He was expected to join the team this month with the ongoing Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Cuttack supposed to be his first assignment at home.
“You see the results, it is just me, G Sathiyan and Manika [Batra] is doing well. We are training on our own and taking care of our singles training but for doubles we need specialised coaching,” Sharath said.
He added, “The coach came for the world championship. Now in next 11 months, he has to figure out everything. By the time he does, it will be December. Our preparation for singles is going on but mixed doubles is an issue.”
According to a TTFI official, the federation is awaiting a response from Papic. “The Sports Authority of India has cleared his appointment and we have sent Papic his letter 4-5 days back. We are waiting for him to sign it and send us back,” the official said.
Four Indians had qualified for the Rio Olympics and Kamal is confident that the team will make the cut for the Tokyo Games. “We have a good chance of qualifying as a team for the Olympics. We are seeded between 9 to 11 and 16 teams qualify. We are still favourite to qualify,” he said.
“There is one tournament in January in Portugal through which we can qualify and for singles we have an Asian qualification in April. If it doesn’t happen then the world ranking will come into the picture. But we should qualify.”
Talking about his qualification chances, Sharath said: “I want to qualify during the qualification tournament. But if it doesn’t happen, I will have to play every tournament till June 2020 and from January to June there are 10 pro tours, apart from world qualification team, Asian qualification, world championship, Asia cup in six months. I have to stitch myself up for every tournament.
“So I am just looking to produce my best performance in 8 tournaments instead of playing too many events.”
The hectic international calendar is making life difficult for players and Kamal said the qualification process for the Olympics need to be reviewed.
“I played Hong Kong and Japan, then two weeks I was at home, I played Korea and Australia and then it is Commonwealth Championship, UTT and immediately after that they want us to go Bulgaria and Czech,” said the 37-year-old.
“It is the ITTF schedule, so if I don’t play I will miss out of ranking points. We have been complaining about the qualification system. International body wants regular action, so nothing has happened. But it needs to re-looked.”
Sharath said he will take a break after the Ultimate Table Tennis league to prepare for the Asian Championship in September.
“I’ll have to play all matches in UTT [beginning July 25] but then I will cut down in August because Asian Championship is in September.
“So will take a break after UTT and take care of physical part and then I want to prepare well for Asian Championship because there is a place for the Olympic qualification but we will have to beat China which is very difficult but it has a good rating points.”
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