When Achanta Sharath Kamal took the flight to Muscat for the ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open, the Covid-19 pandemic was fast spreading across the world. There was uncertainty around every international event being played across Asia and Europe. He kept on checking the status of the tournament with the competition manager till the time he boarded.
Sharath Kamal could not have backed out if the tournament was taking place simply because the Olympic qualifiers were to be played in April and the 37-year-old needed some match practice and valuable points to get a favourable draw.
He, indeed, did a lot better and bagged his first ITTF event title in almost a decade by defeating top seed Marcos Freitas of Portugal in the final.
But as destiny would have it, the qualifiers in Bangkok were cancelled (and the Olympic Games postponed by a year, since then) while Sharath Kamal had to come home and self-isolate for 14 days as per the Government of India protocol.
On Sunday, there was another setback for him, when the International Table Tennis Federation at its executive committee meeting decided to freeze rankings from March to June, thereby depriving Sharath Kamal of 1100 valuable points for winning the tournament.
It is still unclear whether ITTF would make any changes to the qualification process for the Tokyo Olympics which will now start on July 23, 2021. If the process remains the same, getting into the Olympic qualifiers itself shouldn’t be a problem for Sharath Kamal but losing out on the valuable points isn’t an ideal situation in terms of the draw.
“The main thing that is hurting is that I have taken lot of pains to go there. And then I had to stay in isolation for 14 days without seeing my parents,” the 37-year-old told Scroll.in.
“How things are going to be we don’t know. We don’t know whether they are going to consider the points from the two tournaments (Qatar and Oman Open held in March) at the later stage when the rankings start,” he added.
Sharath Kamal admitted that the forced break would also affect his preparation as there is no real clarity on when tournaments will start again.
“It’s very difficult. In the beginning when we were locked down, I was like ‘I need to do my fitness, I need to do my fitness’. But after some time, I was like OK, I am not practising and the rest of the world is also not practising,” he said.
“I will have the time once it starts because the first big tournament will be somewhere around August because everything is cancelled till then. If things don’t go fine then may be September-October, probably end of the year I guess. So I have time.
“But at the same time, I don’t know what to how to prepare. Because I don’t know which tournaments I am going to play, when do I have to be ready. What kind of training I have to do – physical training, do I have to go on off-season training or training for tournaments that are going to come up. All this requires a lot of planning, including which tournaments you want to go to,” he added.
The experienced campaigner insisted that it would help immensely if the team gets the services of a quality foreign coach once the campaign restarts again.
“We need to have a coach, we need to have a training centre. All of these factors. At least we have time to act on it,” he said.
Sharath Kamal said the federation consults him and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran about which coach could be helpful to for the Indian team and that they had suggested a few names since Massimo Costantini left in 2018.
“We suggested a few but those guys didn’t want to come in. Now we have another 15 months more to look. Now we do have the time to find a coach. Earlier it was too less time for them. Now the coach has one year’s time to understand how things work,” he added.