Sharath Kamal had lost his temper after earning another Nationals title in Shillong. He bounded around the table, arms aloft, leaping over advertising boards. He completed a victory lap one would not equate with a man approaching 40 and having just completed a grueling battle against Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. It was a celebration worthy of the occasion: an unprecedented tenth National championship.
That was only an expression of his emotions. I enjoyed it. Over the years, I’ve witnessed him celebrate in various ways. He has always been a highly expressive individual. He has always seen wearing a bandana. After victories, he would throw his paddle up and catch it. The wall collapses to the floor as he rejoices in wins. However, this party was unique. Such celebrations reflect the pressure he would have faced,” says Kamlesh Mehta, an eight-time national champion who has witnessed Sharath’s meteoric climb from unknown paddler to the utter hero he has become.
“When you win the National title for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time, the pressure to repeat it intensifies. Additionally, people’s expectations of you increase. People will point out that he’s 39, implying he won’t be playing for long. The same thing was said about him when he was 35. These are the opinions and expectations he defied to earn his tenth title. The younger players are fitter and speedier,” adds the two-time Olympian and Arjuna awardee.
Between two of his national championships, there were several years during which he could not capture the title.
He also had a severe injury to his knee during his best years. He was in bed for an extended period, unable to move or play. Many believed that he would struggle to recover from that. Even if he returns, he will not be his usual self. However, thankfully for us, he disproved everyone. He returned, but he also returned more muscular and with more titles. Despite the injury, he attained his highest-ever position of World No 30,” Mehta notes.
Sharath has been the lone constant in Indian table tennis for two decades.
As you can see, his strength lies in his reach and force. From the start, he preferred to play a forehand. However, as he grew older, I noticed that he began to concentrate on his backhand. He spent much time perfecting his backhand. However, throughout his career, he underwent numerous adjustments. There have been ruling modifications. However, he has adapted to that adjustment in every way. And continue to perform at this level,” says Mehta, who has a unique perspective on Sharath’s career and ascension.
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As Mehta puts it, he has witnessed Sharath’s entire life.
Sharath influenced Mehta long before he began playing the sport seriously. He recalls receiving an unusual request while supervising a national camp in Bangalore. A pair of brothers — the sons of Srinivasa Rao, who assisted Mehta at the national center — desired to join the base to observe how the top players played. Sharath and his brother invite them to accompany their father for two days after obtaining clearances. Mehta would later learn that Sharath had developed a new passion for the sport due to his attendance at the camp.
That newfound passion catapulted him quickly to the national stage. Sharath was selected to represent India at the Asian Championships in Bangkok a few years later. Kamlesh was the national team’s head coach at the time.
Even then, I could see the fire in him. However, he lacked exposure and experience. When he lost his match, I could tell he was pretty upset.
Mehta notes that he has honed his talents by competing in uber-competitive leagues abroad. Before Sharath, Indian players such as Chetan Baboor, Manjit Dua, and S Raman had traveled to foreign shores to compete in major institutions. However, Mehta asserts that Sharath served as an ambassador for Indian paddlers abroad, which finally led to the opening of further opportunities for others.
Sharath’s trip abroad, in my opinion, aided India’s image in table tennis circles, much as holding a league such as Ultimate Table Tennis did in India, “Mehta, who is also the Director of UTT, agrees. “Thus, the beneficial changes he effected occurred due to his on-table achievements and as a result of his off-table demeanor. Indian players accept into international leagues. You can see an update at OKBET.