New Delhi, July 24: India Table Tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal credits the combined efforts of Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), Sports Authority of India (SAI), as well as the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) have helped Indian Table Tennis take positive strides.
The 37-year-old paddler from Chennai, who is one of the giants of Indian Table Tennis in the country, believes the international coaches and players have started considering Indians as tough opponents and all the change happened within a period of last three years.
While interacting with media persons ahead of the third season of UTT, the veteran talked at length about the impact of the home-grown league towards the mindset and attitude of Indian paddlers.
"The first season of UTT helped the Indian players believe that we can beat the top-level foreign players. G Sathiyan, Manika Batra is the best success stories from season one. In season two, 18-year-old Manav Thakkar stunned Christian Carlsen. So the exposure we've received from UTT has given us the confidence of not being intimidated by the star power of higher-ranked players. This season we are the favourites to beat them. G Sathiyan in the second-best-ranked player in the league after Chuang Chih-Yuan of Chinese Taipei. So, this year, we are not dark horses anymore. We are the favourites to win the matches we'll be pitted against overseas players. So the pressure is on us now," said Kamal - who will be leading Chennai Lions in the upcoming season.
Talking about the quality of overseas players in all three editions of the league, the Chennai-based paddler said, "I think UTT season 1 had bigger names but this year the players have different qualities. I think this year, each player is a different character in themselves which brings more variety. Quality-wise also, they may not be in the top-20 but they are good players at world level."
Sharath believes the current world ranking system doesn't do justice with some players for it has a little bit of bias towards big players.
"The current world ranking system is a little bit biased to a certain player e.g. Benedikt Duda, who will be playing for RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata this year, of Germany is a much better player than his World Ranking suggests. Just because he's a number six or seven in Germany, he doesn't get to play many tournaments. So the World ranking doesn't speak of the depth UTT has in terms of skills and quality of the participating players," he said.
Talking about the perception of international players towards Indian paddlers Sharath said that it has changed a lot and players from top countries are taking them seriously now.
"Everybody is talking about Indian players and they are rating us highly at world level. In fact after Asian Games 2018, Olympic silver-medallist (1988 Seoul) Kim Ki-taik of South Korea he congratulated the whole team and said 'India is a very strong team now'. Even Chinese coaches, after our practice session they lined up and gave a clapping for us because of the way we put up a strong fight even though we couldn't beat them in that practice (team) match. So everybody is closely monitoring the growth of Indian table tennis," said the first Indian to win a Commonwealth Championships gold in 2004.
Talking about the reason for such a growth of table tennis in India Sharath credited the ecosystem developed by Sports Authority of India (SAI), Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).
"The ecosystem developed by Sports Authority of India (SAI), Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has helped us in maintaining the upward curve. I think everything happened (simultaneously) at the right time. In 2016 Rio Olympics, four Indian players qualifying for the first time which helped the TTFI to ask for more funds from the SAI. At the same time, UTT season one happened. So everything coming together is shaping up the entire structure that has helped Indian Table Tennis," he added further.
Highlighting the increasing impact of UTT globally, Sharath said, "Now several overseas players come to us and ask us about how they could get in touch with the organisers of UTT because they've heard that it is a good, competitive event."