Soon to be 38, Sharath Kamal ready to start 'all over again' after the coronavirus lockdown comes to end
There's no table tennis training going on for Sharath Kamal during the coronavirus lockdown, for him it's an opportunity to 'make up for lost time' as he deals with the break with a unique perspective
Table tennis in India has been synonymous with one name — Achanta Sharath Kamal. And for good reasons. The record nine-time national singles winner has been the nation's flag bearer in the sport for decades. But it's a tough road to the top, even tougher is to stay there.
Champions are product of a relentless pursuit. They are the result of a rigorous process which may seem to be mundane to the outsiders but the difficult part is to go over it again and again. To be unforgiving on yourself, mentally and physically. Sacrifices are required. A family man, Sharath based himself in Dusseldorf in Germany for multiple years for the love of the sport, away from his loved ones. The sacrifices have been rewarding on the court, with pro tour titles, multiple gold medals in Commonwealth Games and medals at Asian Games. He was bestowed with the prestigious Padma Shri in 2019, the first to receive the honour from table tennis.
So for someone who only had one thing in mind for long and that's table tennis, life in last few weeks have been a completely different experience, one he took time to adjust to. The nation-wide lockdown enforced due to coronavirus has not only affected table tennis' calendar but has impacted everyone's life majorly.
"The last ball I touched was in Oman (during the ITTF Challenger Plus Oman Open in mid-March) when I won the final," Sharath tells Firstpost. "In the beginning of the lockdown I wanted to have a structure (exercise routine) to the unexpected break with workouts and training. But after a while you understood that it’s not possible when you are trapped in the home. You don’t have the equipment or the space. So after a few days I made peace with myself. I have come to terms with the situation...outside there'a lot of negativity, it's has been tough for people but you need to stay positive."
Only three months shy of his 38th birthday, any unexpected break brings along with itself many challenges for the paddler. It's not the skill that will suffer so much but with the age, keeping up with the best in the business becomes a doubly difficult task. The seasoned campaigner is dealing with those challenges with a unique perspective.
"It’s (lockdown) very hard as we lose out on a lot of skill that we have practiced on for so many years and when you would resume it would be from a few levels below. It’s also not easy to keep yourself perfectly fit with the limitation of the home workout and at my age where metabolism is very slow, where even water turns into fat, it’s tough to stay in shape as before," Sharath says.
"But we need to stay positive even though we are restricted. It’s like a period where you get injured, when you are not able to do much but it’s more about looking after what I eat, so all these factors are same as when you are injured so I am looking at this period like that. The other thing is nobody else in the world is also getting to practice, so you are not the only one who is losing out."
"And we will have time to get back when the lockdown is lifted, even if it’s one month from now, because there will be no tournaments for 2-3 months from there, so you would have time to prepare for competitions and it won’t be like a follow up to an injury. You would be fit to train and compete."
Talking about the details of his daily routine, Sharath added, "Morning 7-8 I workout and it could be anything. Just walking up and down in my four-storey apartment, yoga, meditation, watching youtube videos just to have some motivation". But his favourite bit is spending time with his family, for whom he shifted back from Germany few years back. Now at home, a usual day includes doing household chores and playing with his daughter and son.
"This free time is to make up for all the time I didn’t get to spend with my family earlier. It’s a whole family thing now. Sometimes I make the breakfast. My wife makes lunch and dinner, so I do the vessels or little bit of cleaning. Then it’s about hours of playing with my children. Whether it’s football or just cycling around the building, board games," a happy family man in Sharath said.
The last time Sharath was around the table was when he won Oman Open crown beating Portugal's top seed Marcos Freitas in the final. It was his first Pro Tour title in a decade with the last one coming in 2010 when he won the Egypt Open. The win helped him reclaim the 31st rank in the world. Sharath's participation in Oman Open though was in doubt for a while with his family urging him to stay back due to the COVID-19 threat.
Some positive news, amidst all the negativity currently. Moved up 7 places, to 31 in the #WorldRankings, and the Indian Men’s team up to World Rank 8 (our highest ever!) Just the news I needed while I find myself away from the game during this #lockdown!
📹 Credits : @ittfworld pic.twitter.com/wRIYwvTjti
— Sharath Kamal (@sharathkamal1) April 16, 2020
"Even the day I left for Oman, I was still in contact with the organisers on whether the tournament will take place or not. My family also didn’t want me to take that risk but I went because it would help my world rankings, Olympic qualifiers was to come and I needed match practice. But I am happy that I am back home, had the tournament finished 4-5 days later, you never know. I could have been stuck there," said the 37-year-old paddler.
"But it was fantastic to win it. I was not thinking about winning the tournament when I went there. I was looking at it more from the angle of match practice. I had prepared well for last few months but then as the tournament went on, after the draw and initial rounds, I started to sense that I have a good chance to win the tournament."
Last few years have been highly productive for Sharath, with him attaining his career-best World No 30 rankings in 2018 and helping India win its first-ever Asian Games medal. He puts down the success to him knowing his body better which should help him overcome upcoming challenges.
"I started to prepare for this year in last November. I now know my body very well now, my mind. So I know exactly what I need to do when normalcy returns. I lost almost 4-5 kg to be faster on the table. I had to stop abruptly on my way to my peak and I will have to start everything all over again."
Of late, Sharath has been answering many questions, during media interactions, on his retirement but with results coming his way, the paddler does not want to think about it. With the Olympics now postponed to 2021 and Commonwealth Games schedule for 2022, Sharath has his eyes set on his next targets. And Indian table tennis fans can't wait for him to start hitting those powerful backhand shots again.
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