Sunday, July 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Sharath Kamal.

Every sport has this one player for whom the entire nation cheers. Whenever, wherever he/she is competing, the entire nation wants him/her to win. Sachin tendulkar. Saina Nehwal. Vishvanathan Anand. Abhinav Bindra. Sania Mirza. For us Table tennis lovers, Sharath Kamal is that name. And today is no usual day. The legend turns 33 today. What surprises me is the fact that he has played the best table tennis of his life at the age of 32, his zeal and passion for the game has only grown over the years and he’s the one who has changed the face of Indian TT.  How I wish he keeps playing and winning forever!

My first interaction with him was in 2004 at Mumbai airport when we were waiting for our respective delayed flights to take off. Little did I know that I will experience one of the best conversations of my life ever. As I sat aloof at a corner, I saw this man- the man who had then won the commonwealth championship, whom I had secretly admired, approaching towards me! I stared at him in disbelief when he said “Hi Neha, glad to see you here, long wait eh?” Surprised that he knew my name, I thanked god for the delay! We spoke about table tennis, me, him and life. The conversation ended an hour later only when I had my final boarding call.
Sharath after winning the 2004 Commonwealth Championship

 3 years back, there was another instance which almost saved my playing career. There came a time when I felt disillusioned, I wanted to quit playing, and got no answers from anywhere. Hesitant, I dialed his number hoping for a short inspirational chat. To my surprise he said ‘’Neha I am at Delhi airport and my flight is in 2 hours, I am with family, but that’s ok, can u make it here?” I rushed to the airport in my pyjamas. He told me to hang in there, just one more tournament and I will be good to go. He reaffirmed my faith in hard work with his own example. I had to believe his word, I am glad I did. I cannot thank him enough for that time. I am glad I made that call.

My Favourite Picture 

Always there to support his juniors.

 I caught up with a few die hard fans of this legend, fans who have a special connection with this grounded star, fans who probably even Sharath himself isn’t aware of!

N.Vidya is a promising paddler from Chennai who trains at the AKG Academy managed by the Rao brothers and Rajath Kamal ( Sharath's brother). During my year and a half long stint at AKG I realized how lucky these players are to be playing in the same club where Sharath trains when in India. Although he is hardly seen at the club, the numerous stories of struggle and success narrated by Rao brothers are the daily inspirational does one needs. Here’s what Vidya has to say about Sharath:
“I am so lucky to have joined his academy, not everyone gets to see the best Indian paddler in their academy. Sharath anna is an epitome of hard work and sincerity. He is not only a successful sports person but also a great human being. J It is his humility that defines him more than anything else. Just talking about him to someone gives me so much pride. He is an example of how people can make it big despite average performances at the junior level. Sir tell us many stories of how he had battled adversities ‘N’ number of times to win a match” When asked what is the craziest thing she has ever done for Sharath Kamal, Vidya promptly recalled, “ I was watching his CWG 2006 finals on TV and praying at every point for him to win. I got so involved in the match that it was only after the match I realized that I had scratched myself in thrill and I was bleeding. My mom was shocked. I was so happy after his win. ” Vidya adds rather dejected, “However, my dream to play mixed doubles with him still remains a dream”

I am glad that I got this opportunity. I paired up with him in 2013 Commonwealth Championship and Asian Championships. We lost in the initial stages but it was a dream come true.

Kamal's ''Fans''

Watch this beautiful video of this young paddler from Bengal, Anirban Ghosh, who recalls the match he played against Sharath Kamal in 2012. Anirban was only 13 years old that time and was clearly in awe of the legend. 

Anirban's dream match with Sharath

Mr.Rajeev Sharma, the Director of Events and CTO of  Killerspin, is a huge admirer of Sharath Kamal. He was present at the 2010 US Open and CWG Delhi 2010, cheering his heart out for the Indian team, especially Sharath (ofcourse). Delighted to talk to me about Kamal, he readily replied, "In one of the initial rounds at a tournament in US, Sharath was given a table with concrete flooring, even though he was the top seed. Concerned, I went to him and asked- 'why don't you ask the tournament organizers to change the table for you?' To my surprise Sharath replied- 'I don't like to complain, I can play in any condition, I am here to perform and not question anyone.' Sharath has won my heart on several occasions but this made him win all my respect."

Rajeev and Sharath in US
Yukti Roshni is one girl who has been admiring Sharath secretly since she was 8. She hails from Chennai and is now preparing to become a doctor. Yukti proudly claims, “ I feel Sharath anna is a PHD in table tennis. (P- Passion, H-Hunger, D-Discipline). This is his success mantra. Sharath anna’s presence reminds me of the famous quote- ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. He is the most humble person I have ever met. I have great respect for him.” A few years back on this day Yukti made sure she wishes him. She says the craziest thing she has done was a few years back “ I wanted to wish him on his birthday but his line was busy since a long time. I kept trying his number all day but somehow couldnt get through. Although I texted him but I wanted to talk. I kept trying, but still the line was busy. Later in the day he called me back and said, ‘Yukti, this is too much. Thank you; I really appreciate your effort’. We had a hearty laugh after that. I spent my whole day trying for that one call, but it was worth it!”
Hope she didn’t have problems trying his number today!

With Krishnan Ananth in Germany. He travels all over the world to watch Sharath play!

Sharath's Mother, Wife and Daughter. Undoubtedly his biggest fans :-)
I hope and wish that 33 is his lucky number. He must recover fast from the injury he suffered earlier this year at the World Championships. We miss him in action. Like for Serena Williams and Roger Federer this Wimbeldon, I wish that 33 proves to be lucky for Kamal too. He aims to break into top 25 soon. His fans wish the same. 

Happy Birthday Sharath Kamal!