At 38, legendary India paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal is still dreaming big. On Saturday, he secured an Olympic berth in the mixed doubles event along with Manika Batra by stunning top-seeded Korean pair of Sang-Su Lee and Jihee 4-2 in the Asian Olympic qualifiers final in Doha.

Having already secured a singles quota for the Tokyo Olympics, Sharath Kamal is looking forward to creating history at the Tokyo Olympics, which will get underway from July 23 in the capital city of Japan. The veteran paddler, who has been the flagbearer of the sport in India for nearly 2 decades, will be making his 4th Olympic appearance and the mixed doubles berth, according to him, might actually help end the long wait for an Olympic medal.

On Saturday, the Asian Games bronze medalists showed they are ready to take on the big names as they came back from behind to stun the World No. 5 pairing of Lee and Jihee. After going down in the first two games, Sharath and Manika won the final 8-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-6, 13-11, 11-8. Sharath and Manika, ranked 18 on the ITTF mixed doubles charts, held on to their nerves despite slipping to 4-8 before stitching a run of 7 straight points.

Speaking to India Today Sports Consulting Editor Boria Majumdar for Sports Today, Sharath Kamal expressed his delight at having secured the mixed doubles berth. Notably, Sharath and Manika clinched the singles berths for the Tokyo Olympics. Top-ranked Indian paddler G Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee also booked their singles quotas at the Asian Olympic qualifiers.

‘Memorable day for Indians’

“Today, not just for me, but I think, for Indian table tennis, it is a memorable day,” Sharath said.

“Because qualifying in the mixed doubles gives us an opportunity to actually give our best shot in the Olympics medal. Singles, of course, we are in good shape and we have been doing well. Singles it would be a draw of, there are 70 players who will qualify for singles. And in the mixed doubles, there will be only 16 pairs. So, we start off with the Round of 16 and we are only 3 rounds away from the medal,” he added.

“So, I think that way, and you know this as the last opportunity for us to book our Tokyo Olympic berth. So, it was a do-or-die match against World No 5. We had beaten them (in the last 16) at the Asian Games where we won the Bronze medal but we had lost to them in a world ranking championship tournament, so it was 1-1.

“And today trailing behind 0-2, it was, we didn’t start the game the way we wanted to, but the coach kept telling us, to try to get ourselves into the game. So, we slowly stepped our way up into the match and we were able to match the best Korean pair.”

I am still able to dream big: Sharath

Sharath Kamal said the thought of winning an Olympic medal is giving him goosebumps and the Asian Games medal did give him confidence that he will be able to achieve his long-standing dream in Tokyo.

“The very thought about my first medal, I am feeling ‘wow’. This is something that I dreamt about when I played my first Olympic Games in 2004. Of course, with age, you start to see reality and your ability to dream gets lesser and lesser. Somehow with me, I am still able to follow my dreams and continue to dream big,” Sharath said.

“The Asian Games medal was the path breaker, for the first time in 60 years we got a medal. That gave us a belief that if we are able to win a medal at the Asian Games, we will be able to win at the Olympics. We are just 3 matches away from winning a medal there.”

Sharath Kamal outlines training plans in lead up to the Games

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a major hurdle for athletes across the globe when it comes to preparation for the Games. Sharath believes that he will not be able to travel overseas to train in the lead up to the Olympics but is confident of inviting some sparring partners and training alongside Manika.

Sharath is focussed on preparing for the singles event, adding that a good show in singles will help them do well in doubles at the Games.

“I have come to a thought where traveling abroad is very difficult due to the current scenario. We will have to figure out a way where we both are able to practice together, focus more on singles because when we do well in singles, our doubles game gets better,” he said.

“For the month of April and May, we will be predominantly training in India. We are also thinking about inviting a few sparring partners and have camps in India. At some point, we will try to go abroad to get exposure to different scenarios and different conditions.”



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