New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) India's top table tennis player Sharath Kamal has many firsts, the latest being that he is the first Indian to qualify for the World Cup. The 31-year-old is ecstatic, though he feels the opportunity has come a tad late in his career and after a decade of hard grind at the highest level.
The Chennai-based Andhra player will make history when he plays his opening match in Verviers, Belgium, Oct 25.
"Even if it is late, never mind the age, I think I got it when I am playing my best table tennis. I had worked on a lot of things in the last two years, when nothing was going right for me table tennis wise. Now I feel I have fixed the shortcomings in my game," the World No.51 told IANS from Germany where he plays for top club Borussia Dusseldorf.
Sharath, who had dropped to as low as 91 in the rankings post the high of 2010 Commonwealth Games, feels the transition in his game is complete.
"I have worked on things like backhand, fitness, balance of the body, serve and return. So it took a tough two years to tighten my game. The result of all this is a place in the World Cup. It is a great feeling as I have been watching it from the gallery and now I am actually going to play in it," said the lanky paddler who made the cut after finishing ninth in the Asia Cup.
He is part of the 20-player field for the annual event and that includes reigning World Champion Zhang Jike of China.
Asked about his chances in the tournament, Sharath said: "I would be seeded somewhere between 15-18, so I would be happy if I can make the quarters or semifinals. The confidence is high after wins in the German Bundesliga where I have a 4-1 win-loss record this season."
What is it like playing with the likes of World No.6 Timo Boll at the club?
"This is my first season with Dusseldorf, but I trained with them last season and that made it more comfortable playing with them. I have learnt a lot of small and yet vital things, especially the mental side of it."
A quarterfinal finish in the Czech Open has almost brought him back in the top 50 players in the world. The three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist now aims to break into the top 30s.
"I hope I would be in the top 50 after the World Cup. It is important for me to maintain the form till the Rio Olympics," said Sharath whose best ranking was 39th in the run up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.