The table tennis field at the Tokyo Olympics will be extremely competitive but India is hopeful of bringing home a historic medal. The table tennis squad will leave for Japan next week. The quartet of Manika Batra, Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee, along with coach Soumyadeep Roy spoke exclusively to NDTV ahead of the Tokyo Games. “This is the best team we have ever sent to the Olympics. We are in a situation where everything is tough, but they have made sacrifices and determination, hard work and goals, preparation of all the athletes over a period of 3 or 4 years,” coach Soumyadeep Roy said.

The team travelling from India will have to serve three days isolation period before they can access the venues. The players have prepared for this unprecedented situation.

Sharath Kamal, a three-time Olympic veteran, who will now play in his 4th Olympics says, “I think the Olympic Games are going to be very different, given the current scenario around the world with the restrictions and rules. Understanding the rules during competition and before competition are all going to take a little bit of our mind. This will be the best Olympics for all of us.”

Sharath and Manika are being tipped to win a medal in the mixed doubles event. Hopes have been pinned on the duo ever since their 2018 Asian Games bronze medal.

“We won bronze in both men’s and mixed doubles, for the first time in 62 years at the Asian games. That gave us the right kind of motivation. I think the strengths we both have is the ability to raise our games under pressure, which Manika in singles and doubles has as her speciality, and I am able to do it over a period of time,” said Sharath Kamal.

“The style of play we have is because we are both tall and have a little bit of physicality and coordination in moving around. Our advantage is that she is able to slow the game to lowest speeds and from there I can increase my power, since I play a power game. The contrast in the speeds and the ability to slow it down and increase is what our strength is, and I hope we can get any opponent into that kind of rhythm. We hope with a good draw at the Olympics, we will be able to realise our own dreams of getting the gold medal,” he added.

“It will be a change, but we played together in qualifications and defeated the Korean players and played amazingly. I personally feel when we give our best, I can support Sharath bhaiya, and I am going to try whatever I can in Tokyo, and I am excited for this,” Manika said of the challenge awaiting the Indians.

However, the 26-year-old from Delhi is realistic.

“Everyone is coming after a tough situation and are coming in after putting in 100 per cent. I have been trying to adjust to Japan time, waking up at 5:30am and training in the mornings. I will not put pressure on myself, but I know I can beat good players and surprise myself over there,” she said.

G Sathiyan will be playing in his first Olympics and there is a surprise factor about him too. Often referred to as the Virat Kohli of table tennis, Sathiyan is ready to make waves.

“This is the first time two Indians will be starting directly in the round of 48, that’s really high and an advantage to start that high,” he said.

“I am also in form, having beaten higher ranked players and those kinds of wins before the pandemic have given me a lot of confidence. It might be my first Olympics, but I have played a lot of international events which has given me the exposure to take on the big guns. If we play good table tennis for 3 days. My goal is to reach the QFs, and from there on you enter the prime zone. For me, it’s about beating top opponents, take out two big names, and from there the path opens up and you can enjoy playing the game,” Sathiyan said about his game plan.

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The team also has a fourth member in Sutirtha Mukherjee. Going into her first Games, she is uninhibited and promised to cause a few upsets.

With the exposure of playing in leagues around the globe and beating some of the top players, Indian table tennis is on a high and the current crop is fired up to cause a few upsets and make podium finishes in Tokyo.

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