By Neha Aggarwal
Added to the exhilaration of winning his seventh title, it was a moment of nostalgia for Sharath, as the current world no.62, won his very first national title in the same venue in 2003. Since then, Sharath has won five more titles consecutively, in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. However, in 2011, Sharath suffered a major blow as Amalraj Anthony broke his dominance beating him in the finals. After that, in 2012, the younger generation took over as Soumyajit Ghosh beat Kamal in the finals to win his first national title.
But on Sunday, 5th February 2017, Sharath was a different person. The quality of his strokes, the determination to win each point and the perseverance to fight at every stage was crystal clear. At the international arena, Sharath is fighting for himself and his country, however, at the national arena, he fights a different battle each year. In India, Sharath is fighting against records, critics, expectations from his fans and the constant glare from people who want him to keep proving himself again and again at the national arena.
The hunger to win
“Everyone has been wanting me to win in India, but I wanted to swim in the international waters. I have been so focused to win at the international arena, that whenever I was in India, playing matches felt more like a comfortable breathing space. In the last two editions of the national championships, I lost badly in the semi finals. But that’s not who I am. Today, I was HUNGRY to win this title,” said Sharath, in an exclusive post match interview.
He proved to the entire nation that he has not dusted. Versatile, agile and level-headed as ever before, he beat Soumyajit Ghosh in a thrilling six games duel (11-8, 6-11, 11-9, 3-11, 11-8, 11-5).
In addition to that, the 35 year-old also had a different motivation this year. “After the birth of my daughter, this is my first national championship title. My wife has been encouraging me to win one title for our daughter. Two days back was her sixth birthday and I am so glad I won it for her.”
But the very humble Sharath added, “The last two years have been a huge struggle for me and my team. We have worked together to get my fitness back after I was operated for an injury in 2015. My doctor in India, Gopal Ramnathan and my trainer, Ramji Srinivasan at Quantum Leap Peformance (QLP) in Chennai have been instrumental in getting my fitness levels back. Moreover, my trainer Ole Nauertz along with coach Danny Heister at my club Borussia Dusseldorf in Germany have been supporting me when I am in Europe. This one is for them!”
Sharath’s first coaches, his father Mr.Srinivasan Rao and uncle Mr.Murlidhar Rao are probably his biggest fans and well wishers. “They have been yearning to see me win this title since a long time now. They have been so supportive, of course, this is also for them.”
Indian records don’t matter
The buzz in the crowd was that Sharath should aim to equal or better the record of Kamlesh Mehta, who won eight Indian national championship men’s singles titles in the eighties and early nineties. However, Sharath sets his eyes at the international level. He said, “Kamlesh sir has his own record. I respect it and I am not aiming to break it at all.” He continued,
“I am looking at international benchmarks. I want to set high standards so that the youngsters can chase it and become better than me. I set a target of achieving the world ranking of no.32. Maybe Soumyajit Ghosh can do it and this makes me happy. I want the Indians to make a mark at the international arena.”
Sharath has definitely been a role model for both men and women table tennis players in India. His achievements at the international and national level have inspired many, younger players like Soumyajit Ghosh, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Harmeet Desai who look up to him.
Records look jubilant in the books, but Sharath Kamal Achanta thinks different. His actions inspire Indians to aim high, be consistent and that international success is attainable.
Men’s Singles Final: Sharath Kamal Achanta beat Soumyajit Ghosh 4-2 (11-8, 6-11, 11-9, 3-11, 11-8, 11-5)
Men’s Singles Semi-finals: Sharath Kamal Achanta beat Harmeet Desai 4-3 (11-8, 11-5, 7-11, 10-12, 7-11, 14-12, 11-9); Soumyajit Ghosh beat Sathiyan Gnanasekaran 4-1 (12-10, 11-7, 11-6, 4-11, 11-4)
Men’s Singles Quarterfinals: Sharath Kamal Achanta beat Subhajit Saha 4-0 (11-6, 11-4, 11-6, 11-7); Harmeet Desai beat Sanil Shetty 4-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-8, 11-6); Soumyajit Ghosh beat Amalraj Anthony 4-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-9, 11-30; Sathiyan Gnanasekaran beat Devesh Karia 4-1 (8-11, 11-9, 11-2, 11-4, 11-4).