Asian Games 2018, Massimo Costantini interview: Medal is within our reach, says India's table tennis coach
India's table tennis coach Massimo Costantini feels that India can bring home the elusive medal from the Asian Games.
A historic Commonwealth Games performance has breathed hope and optimism in Indian table tennis. The Indian paddlers surpassed all expectations to win eight medals in Gold Coast, but as they head to Jakarta, the story will be different. Ever since table tennis' introduction at the Asian Games in 1958, Indian paddlers haven't won a medal. However, India's table tennis coach Massimo Costantini feels there is a chance to break that medal duck this time around.
"We know how tough it is to win a medal (at the Asiad), but comparing past years, I believe that a medal is within our reach," Costantini tells Firstpost from China where the Indian paddlers are preparing for the Games in the national training camp.
Costantini's positivity emanates from India's consistent rise and improvement in the international arena as well as the world stage.
"I feel we have more chances now than eight years back when I was with India. This country is getting better and better. Just recently, our junior boys achieved a historic result by reaching the final of the Junior Asian Championships, which is the proof that if we don’t win medals this time, it will happen next time."
The Indian men's team will be seeded sixth while the women's team will be seeded eighth at the Games. Out of the five medal events (men's team, women's team, men's singles, women's singles and mixed doubles), India's best chance stands in the team events. At the Asian Games, both semi-finalists (winning and losing) get a medal. The first goal will be to reach the quarters. And with the Asian powerhouses such as China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong participating, the draw will be crucial.
In the last two editions, Indian men's team bumped into China in the quarter-final, while the women met them in the quarters last year and the results were foregone conclusions.
"The first goal is to make the quarter-final and then it all depends on the draw. Team spirit and a good dose of luck will be welcome. Except for the first stage of the team event, all matches will be knock-out system so the favour of the draw can be crucial. In the singles, we have a chance to make some important upsets, which we have done in the past. The question mark is over the mixed doubles, a brand new event where there might be some surprises," the coach says.
A good draw would be meeting Chinese Taipei, a second string Japan side or Hong Kong in the quarter-final. India have been faltering at the final hurdle, in the quarters, so what do they need to do to get that final push?
"There is a gap between India and the top Asian countries. Individually, we can create some upset, but to make the big jump we need to improve our foundation," explains Costantini.
"Currently we are in Chengdu. In this centre, there are 42 tables full of players (practicing and playing) morning and evening with a solid and consistent program, and this is one of the many places where you can find talents in China. As I said several times, our knowledge is good, we have to multiply by 100 whatever exists in India, and when the system gets to the proper regime, then we can aspire to be consistently in top 4-5 in the world, and when you are in the top 4-5 teams then chances of not to faltering are very high."
The preparations are in full flow. The Indian team is practising with the local Chinese players at the Sichuan Sports Technic in Chengdu. It's a crucial final step before heading to Jakarta.
"Having a camp in China means to get two different opportunities: playing with various sparring partners with various abilities and train with a high quality of rhythm and speed of balls. We will focus also on the game-like situations, and we will have a friendly match against the major China team which also is training here in Chengdu.
"Preparations are going smooth, we have two long morning and afternoon sessions, including fitness, and we have different sparring partners with different game styles. Almost every day we play games and, even our players haven’t peaked too early. I do hope they hit their peak at the Games. I believe we are on the right track. The mood is good in the camp, I feel the same spirit we had before the CWG. One thing I am sure of is, the Indian players are ready to give their best to make a dream come true. "
The CWG performance injected the confidence which was carry forwarded to the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Sweden where the Indian men's team finished 13th, their best since 1987 (12th). The women's team did reasonably well with a 17th place finish. The Italian coach credits players' hunger for the World Championship success which will hold them in good stead going forward.
"Well, we came from great results in Gold Coast and we wanted to continue to make history. The players displayed the will to win and this is very good because, in the moment of need, this will to win will make the difference."
India were the favourites going into the CWG but it will be totally opposite this time in Jakarta. They will be the underdogs and that might end up helping them.
"It helps when you feel that you can make an important upset, you don’t feel pressure, you play freely and you don’t have anything to lose."
Costantini says that India aren't looking to do anything different from the CWG. They want to achieve the best results and "this is another great opportunity for India to prove how good we are."
So, what will be India's biggest challenges at the Games?
"Maybe playing against Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Taipei and many others?" The Italian jokes. "I believe mixed doubles is the most challenging event, for us and for many other countries it is a new event."
Costantini believes India's past performances will help them going into Game,s and their as well as the opponents' mindset have totally changed.
"I think the best help for India is having proved the capabilities to win something in the past the and get high respect from those traditional countries who have the habit to be at the top.
"The world sees India as an emerging country and this will help us trust our abilities. In the past we used to start a match with a sort of inferiority, now every time we start a match with a belief that we can win that match," Costantini signs off.
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