And Tokyo 2020, which had to be delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the last chance fair for the veteran to win an Olympic medal. Sharath will have two chances to succeed as he will compete in both the men’s singles and mixed doubles events. Days before heading to the Japanese capital, world number 32 Sharath spoke to DT Next about his preparations, his chances at the Olympics and more.
How good were the preparations ahead of the Tokyo Olympics?
I had a schedule in place so that I could give my best in both events. For the mixed doubles, Manika Batra and I trained with a lot of sparring partners at the Sonepat national camp. As for the singles, I have been training actively since qualifying for the Olympics in March. In fact, I started my preparations in September 2020. I knew I would qualify; qualification has never been a problem. Given the COVID-19 situation last year and the challenges it posed, I knew I had to start my job earlier than usual.
Can you give us some insight into how you’ve tweaked your singles game?
I had four to five players as singles training partners. I played them in rotation. I kept switching training partners because I needed variety. I felt I needed a group of players to help me improve my game. Some players are good offensively while others are good defensively. So I took the positives out of their game and kept working on it constantly.
What do you think of your chances in men’s singles?
In singles this is my highest ranking – No.32 – before the Olympics. I have never been in this position before. On the fitness side, I’m in great shape. I’m pretty sure Tokyo 2020 will be my best Olympics in terms of performance and results.
You will team up with Manika Batra in mixed doubles, whose draw includes only 16 teams. Is the presentation of a medal in this event a possibility?
It is quite possible because our major chance is there. We have high hopes on this. If we win three matches, we’ll come back with a medal. Asia is the power of table tennis. After winning a bronze medal in the mixed doubles event at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, we realized that we are able to step on the podium at the Olympics. The belief has always been there, but the dream only came true in 2018. We have been in good shape and it gives us more confidence.
Tokyo 2020 will be your fourth Olympic Games. Do you think your previous experiences at the Games will be useful in difficult circumstances?
The COVID-19 situation is something new. I had to make a list of things before I even got on the plane to Tokyo. So the focus is not completely on the sport. Security is something that needs to be taken care of. Overall I’m still trying to figure out how to approach the whole process. But once the Olympics start, I’ll be in my zone. My field experience will help me deal with pressure situations.
You have just turned 39 and are at the end of your career. How well did your family support you on this journey?
I was able to pursue my passion for so long only thanks to the support of my family. I have to thank my wife. It is only because of her that I can go out and do what I want to do best without worrying about things on time.