Having formed a mixed doubles combination with Manika Batra, veteran table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal is eyeing a medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
"The main reason we played the national championships was to prepare for the Hungarian Open and especially for next year because the qualification process for the Olympics is through these pro tours which are over the course of the next 12 months. By the end of December 2019, we will get to know whether we have qualified for the Olympics.
"The first stage of Olympic qualification is through the mixed doubles, followed by the team championships qualification which will be followed by the singles qualification. So we are trying our level best to qualify for the mixed doubles," Kamal told IANS.
"There is a big chance for a medal in the mixed doubles because there are only 16 pairs. One from each country. So there is a fair chance of winning a medal in Tokyo," he added.
Kamal asserted that he has built up an excellent combination with Manika and is now confident of taking on the best in the world.
"I will play only with Manika. I think with Manika, we have formed the right pair to beat the world's top pairs. I used to play mixed doubles earlier as well, but the main factor in this category is when the woman is good. When the woman player is strong, then the men play second fiddle," he said.
The 36-year-old from Chennai also pointed out that India needs better infrastructure to improve its performance at the international level.
"We need more infrastructure. That is what I keep telling everybody. That's a necessity, not only for table tennis but for many other sports as well because we lack infrastructure. That is where we don't get the right kind of exposure. Many times we play in small halls and when we have tournaments in big halls, we are intimidated by the size of the hall and the atmosphere and sometimes we don't perform at our best," Kamal said.
"I think we also need to train in such top facilities to perform in those kind of places. I think infrastructure is the need of the hour," he added.
A lot of sponsors have come into the game in recent times to support the overall domestic structure and Kamal asserted that table tennis has a bright future in India.
"There are a lot of sponsors coming in which has improved the sport as there are more tournaments now. Like 11Sports has come in, taking care of the grassroots level, the zonal tournaments etc. There, they have a whole package. The federation and the SAI are also doing their fair share," the veteran star said.
"There has been a positive change after the Rio Olympics. It's a good sign that we can improve from here."
(Ajeyo Basu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)