Marking his fourth Olympic appearance in Tokyo, Sharath will headline the TT quartet, which also features Manika, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Sutirtha Mukherjee as the other three players.
Taking nothing away from what each of those four can do on their day, a medal in the singles still feels like a long shot. The biggest hopes are pinned on the mixed doubles event (Sharath and Manika), where only 16 teams will contest.
(From left, Sharath, Sutirtha, Manika and Sathiyan – Getty Images)
“Getting a medal is going to be tough, but in mixed doubles, we are just three rounds away from a medal,” said Sharath during an exclusive interaction with TimesofIndia.com.
Talking about their recent show, Sharath and Manika defeated the then world No. 8 Korean pair of Sang-Su Lee and Jihee Jneon in the final of the Asian Olympic qualifiers. The Korean pair has now moved up to No. 6, while Manika and Sharath are ranked 19th in the world rankings for mixed doubles currently.
It was at the same qualifying tournament that Sathiyan and Sutirtha confirmed their Olympic debuts by topping their respective groups. Sharath and Manika made the Olympic cut by way of finishing as the highest-ranked second-placed players at the event.
“Even though this is going to be my fourth Olympic Games, it’s going to be something new due to the prevailing situation with Covid-19. But at the same time, the ability to understand the pressure, stress and the anxiety that arises at the Olympics is something that will come in handy at this juncture with the experience I have,” Sharath, who also won the Qatar Open last year to end his decade-long trophy drought, told TimesofIndia.com.
Back to training at the Sonepat Camp. Just over a month to go! #Tokyo2020 🏓@KirenRijiju @IndiaSports @Media_SAI… https://t.co/glY289ViI0
— Sharath Kamal OLY (@sharathkamal1) 1624029298000
But it’s his double-medal show at the Asian Games that gives the 39-year-old Sharath the hope of making what could possibly be his last hurrah at the Olympics a truly memorable one.
“The confidence that I have is mostly from the last couple of years, especially from the 2018 Asian Games when we won two bronze medals. That is the confidence-giver, because if you can get a medal at the Asian Games, you can get a medal at the Olympic Games,” the veteran paddler said.
The Indian table tennis team had a national camp last month in the run-up to the Olympics, where Sharath got much needed practice with Manika, who agreed to join the camp after she had initially decided to skip it and train at her base in Pune.
“We start with the Round of 16, then the quarterfinal and the semifinal,” said Sharath explaining the draw of the mixed doubles event.
(Sharath and Manika during the 2018 Asian Games – Twitter Photo)
“So we are just three matches (wins) away from a medal, which makes it actually realistic and possible. Of course, it’s going to be very difficult but at the same there is a realistic chance that we are able to get that medal, because we have beaten top-level players, like the world No. 6 (team) currently from Korea and some other top players in the previous tournaments.
“So hopefully, we will be able to rise to the occasion and deliver.”
India has never won a table tennis medal at the Olympics. Will that statistic change at the Tokyo Games? If the eventual answer is yes, it will be the biggest watershed moment in Indian table tennis.