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BRIEF PROFILES OF CWG - BOUND PADDLERS

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A. Sharath Kamal:

 

Sharath Kamal’s exploits, especially in Commonweal Games, need no reiteration. Nor does he need to be profiled.

 

Of the three gold medals that he has in his CWG kitty since 2006, the Indian maestro values the singles gold as the most precious one. Incidentally, it happened at Melbourne, Australia!


Barring Glasgow, India has maintained a good track record at CWG and Sharath and Co. want to put that memory behind it.

 

 

The eight-time national champion is arguably India’s best bet in table tennis at the Games. The 36-year-old is in the pink of health and fitness and is aiming at two gold medals at Gold Coast—in team event as well as in singles—and with a little push, a third gold in men doubles is in the realm of possibility!

 

Sharath’s preparation leading up to Gold Coast is precise. After the record-equalling eighth national title, he has been training and playing abroad to get into better shape. Though he is ranked No. 71 in the world currently—his best was No. 32—the best thing about him is his ability to stay in top-100 of the world for over a decade.

 

He derives his strength and confidence from his recent wins over top-notchers. Sharath in his own words, admits that the one against world No. 7 Koki Niwa from Japan at the Qatar Open, an ITTF Platinum event, as the biggest and the best in his career.

 

It speaks volumes of his sheer determination to go on and on. At 36, the CWG at Gold Coast will most probably be his last outing in the quadrennial competition. But he is ready to bow out in all glory and he believes Australia is his happy hunting ground. After all, he won two gold at Melbourne in 2006.

 

His reason for the positive belief is the best possible men team that India has fielded. Yet another reason for the belief is the consistent improvement on his backhand attack. He is no longer a one-dimensional player with just the strong forehand!

 

A confessed Roger Federer fan, Sharath is not yet thinking of retirement. ‘’I would like to take stock of the situation (on how my body reacts) every six months. No long-term desire, nor goal. Of course, if God willing and am fit, I would like to go on at least until the Tokyo Olympics,” has been his cautious approach.

 

G. Sathiyan:

 

Sathiyan Gnanasekaranmay not have the aura or the finesse of a Sharath Kamal. He may not have become the national champion, an ingrained desire that every paddler dreams about. Yet, he is the hottest property in Indian table tennis, ranked 49 in the world, today. It will be up to him to jell together in Australia and and carve out a CWG niche for himself. A first-timer at CWG, Sathiyan has been dreaming about it.

 

An engineer by profession has come a long way from his days of being a part of the bronze-medal winning Indian team in 2011. In the last seven years, barring a year or so when he gave preference to completing his engineering degree, Sathiyan has made progress by leaps and bounds, to the extent of pushing Sharath behind him! 

 

Consistently a top-ranked Indian player, Sathiyan crossed several crucial milestones in pro-tours. His journey began with the 2016 Belgium Open singles crown and in 2017 he added the Spanish Open singles gold, thus becoming the only Indian so far to win back-to-back ITFF Challenge titles. At the Qatar Open this year, he accounted for world No. 27 Japanese, YuyaOshima—in one of the CWG preparatory events. He has other assorted silver and bronze medals, including in doubles, but the Spanish Open title pitchforked him to the spot where he is standing alone as the top-ranked Indian in the world. He also bagged a bronze medal in men doubles at the Swedish Open last year, pairing up with Sharath Kamal.

 

Since then, the two have been combing very well whenever the opportunity came about and the two are looked as the possible doubles pair at the CWG this April. Of course, Sathiyan will be a vital cog in the wheel of fortune for the gold medal that Indian men team is aiming at Gold Coast.
With his never-say-die attitude and attacking style, Sathiyan can be handful for any of his opponent in singles as well. 

 

He knows it too well and India’s fortune will hinge around him at the Games.

 

Anthony Amalraj:

 

The latest to join the list of Arjuna Awardees and two-time national champion Amalrajhas in him to turn on the heat when it is needed at the CWG. He and Sathiyan have had great on-field rivalries in domestic competitions, but when it comes to event like CWG, Amalraj is a team man to the core. It was he and Sharah who missed the gold in men doubles at Glasgow four years ago to the Singaporean pair of Gao Ning and Li Hu and had to settle for the silver. Incidentally, this was also the only instance in three Games since 2006 that India had to return without a gold.

 

At 32, he may not have achieved certain goals in his life, including qualifying for the Olympics or breaking into the top 100 in world, but the trigger for him to keep performing against big players in domestic tournaments is the passion. He had seen juniors surpassing him and performing equally well abroad. Yet, he has maintained his ranking at home and finished India No.1 the last season despite losing the singles final to Sharath Kamal at Ranchi. His sojourns in Europe and the Polish League have helped him become a better player. So much so, he won silver medal at the Chile Open last year and a gold in men doubles, partnering Soumyajit Ghosh. In fact, Amalraj did exceedingly well in the Brazil Open but had to again settle for the silver.

 

The Arjuna award that he received last year has done a world of good to this attacking player from Chennai. When in mood, he can beat the best and, at the same, he is capable of losing a match from the position of strength. At 2010 CWG, he helped India win a bronze at New Delhi and in Glasgow a silver. Four years down the line, if he turns it around at Gold Coast a gold is very much a possibility.

 

Harmeet Desai:

 

Another first-timer at CWG, Harmeet Desai had all the potential to be best. In lead up to the competition in Australia this April, one would like to recall his sterling performances at the Wuxi Asian Championships last year where he was India’s toast in both team events as well as in singles. These achievements actually helped him break into the top-100 in the world and today he is well-entrenched there at No. 66.

 

The 24-year-old has come a long way since PSPB Academy days at Ajmer. But what turned the corner for him was the specialised stint the TTFI designed for him at Peter Karlsson’s Academy in Sweden. Even before that he caused a few upsets in the 2010 World Junior Championships at Bratislava, Slovakia, running the world No. 16 close. So much so, the ITTF arranged to extend his stay with Karlsson. In the same year, Desai was a part of the bronze medal winning India squad at the Asian Juniors in Bangkok. Then, a year later came the Austrian Junior Open singles title, a feat none else could replicate.
His performance in domestic tournaments was equally praiseworthy as he challenged the likes of Amalraj and Sanil Shetty. The under-21 years title was his at the Brazil Open in 2012. He followed it up with the men’s single title at the Fajr Cup tournament in Tehran.

 

In 2014, Harmeet became the first Indian to reach the Qatar Open World Tour Platinum series final at Doha, losing to France’s Tristan Flore. He also paired up with Soumyajit Ghosh to claim the doubles silver at both the Australian and Philippine Opens. The two took their partnership further with triumph in the men’s team and doubles at the Commonwealth Championships in Surat.

 

One of the finest and promising juniors in 2010, has somehow not able to maintain consistency which has been this Surat paddler’s bane. How he overcomes at the multi-sports event like the CWG is in the realm of conjecture. But if he were to achieve what he did at Wuxi, he can yet again become the toast of India!

 

Sanil Shetty:

 

This attractive and attacking left-hander, a last-minute replacement for Soumyajit Ghosh, will be participating in his second CWG after Glasgow. Shetty, 28, may not be as consistent as he should have been with his experience. Yet, on his day he can be quite handful for any top-ranked paddleer as Finland’s BenedekOlah, the world No. 87, would have realised in the 2017 ITTF World Tour Platinum Australian Open, held in Gold Coast. He was one of the four Indians who made it to the main draw of the Australian Open.

 

That’s where he is heading to as a part of the contingent and he would be a value addition to the prospects of India’s team gold. Probably, he may pair up with Amalraj and the left-right combination could prove very useful in the men doubles. Shetty’s capabilities are too well known and coming as he does from a good preparation at Bremen where he participated along with the rest of Indian squad in the German Open, he should fill the vacuum created by Ghosh. The Surat Commonwealth Championships bronze medallist in 2015, Shetty is ranked India No. 8 and he should be able to make most of the god-sent opportunity.

 

Manika Batra:

 

Manika Batra, the No. 2 Indian player, is by far the best bet for India’s fortunes at the CWG. The tall and lanky 22-year-old will have shoulder the entire burden of the women’s squad at Gold Coast. Of course, she will have the company of others, including veteran Mouma Das, but she is a singles medal hope for the country. ‘’Colour of the medal doesn’t matter to me,’’ says Manika when asked about her prospects.

 

Manika, who missed her second national title by a whisker the last season when she went down from an advantageous position in the seventh game to Suthirta Mukherjee, the current national champion, is a consistent player with several national ranking titles to her name. But her natural game and the attacking style is what suits her best. Yet, at times, she drops her guard and goes into a kind of switch-off mode when she loses points, passing on the advantage to her opponents. She is wary of the fact and taking care of these minor aspects as she trains intensively at the Hansraj Model Academy under her long-time coach Sandeep Gupta.

 

The Rio Olympian has been in a roaring form, especially in the company of Mouma Das, as they paired up to win a silver medal in Spanish Open late last year. Before that they became the first duo to enter a world championships’ quarterfinals, a first for India, at Dusseldorf. In January this year, the pair was ranked world No. 12 after a string of good performances in world pro tours. Even otherwise, the two have struck a chord in recent times as a team and expectations of a doubles gold at Gold Coast has risen. Manika was instrumental in helping Team India clinch a berth in the Champions Division of the World Championships and she would definitely recall the instances of last year while performing at CWG.

 

She is only 22 and despite her age, Manika has a mature head and realises her responsibility.

 

Mouma Das:

 

With a vast experience at her disposal, Mouma Das has certain qualities which most others always crave for. A two-time Olympian—her first appearance was at Athens in 2004—Mouma is a great fighter and never gives up easily. A rare quality seen among these days youngsters, Mouma is capable of handling the worst of conditions and hence her advice would be crucial to the other squad members.

 

Mouma, wo made her first world championships appearance in 29917 at Manchester, is the only Indian paddler who can boast of record 15 world championships appearances which is matched by only other player KomwonNanthana of Thailand in Aisa. Mouma was majorly involved when Indian women’s team won a historic gold at the 2016 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Malaysia. The Arjuna award winner also holds the record for the most Commonwealth Championships medals by an Indian paddler, a whopping 17. The Kolkatan also won a bronze medal in the team event at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and a silver medal in the team event and a bronze medal in the doubles event at the Delhi 2010 CWG. Her first bronze medal came in the 2001 Commonwealth Games.

 

They speak volumes of the paddler’s capabilities and how she would be relevant even at the age of 34 when India look to at least two medals, in team event as well as women doubles.

 

MadhurikaPatkar:

 

The former national champion is a struggler but with a great never-say-die attitude. Her one-off national title two seasons ago at Manesar should have served as big shot in the arm for this Thane paddler. But somehow, she has lost her touch and self-belief during the last season and failed to live up to expectations. Yet, Madhurika gave her cent percent as she did in Malaysia when the team needed her to help it win gold in the world championships or when the Surat Commonwealth Championships happened three years ago.

 

Madhurika can play as well as any other Indian player, thanks to her experience and the ability to switch off from attack to defence. This trait will definitely come in handy at the CWG in Gold Coast.

 

Pooja Sahasrabuddhe:

 

A promising paddler, who is ranked one rung below Madhurika at No. 4 in India, is the current Inter-Institutional champion. At the final held in Delhi last August, she beat Madhurika for her major title. Unfortunately, like most other Indian women players, consistency is the problem of Pooja. She had a chance to win her maiden national title but lost to Manika Batra at Hyderabad in what was a dream final for the first-time finalists. Otherwise, Pooja has several medals to her credit as a Team India member in Commonwealth Championships. The U-17 and U-21 national champion may be branded as a flashy player, but the Pune woman, who has a strong backhand, gets her chance at CWG 2018 to prove her detractors otherwise.

 

Suthirta Mukherjee:

 

The baby of the team, in terms of experience and exposure in international events, Suthirta is an exciting player with effective forehand and a good blocking ability. When she attacks and plays close to the table, she more often than not gets her shots right and earn good points. But she needs to keep a check on giving negative points. When she became the Institutional champion two seasons ago, she was coming out of hibernation due to various reasons and showed her intensity. Yet, she was unable to carry the form into next season and win other ranking title. However, season 2017 proved to her best so far when she won two national ranking crowns and the all-important national championships title at Ranchi upstaging Manika Batra. In other words, the 22-year-old is in her zone, she can beat the best in business. One only hopes she doesn’t get overawed by the grand stage like CWG.

 

 

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