New Delhi: India`s top table tennis star Sharath Kamal could not have asked for more at this juncture of his career than to train with former World No.1 Timo Boll in his native Germany.
For Kamal, India`s lone top 100 player at 69, a stint with top club Borussia Dusseldorf has come at a time when he needed to reinvent himself at the international level.
At 30, two years younger to Boll, Sharath has been going through a lean run after failing to defend his singles title at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games and he badly needed confidence to bounce back.
Kamal managed to stay in the top 100 for seven years with a best ranking of 39 in 2010 but the dip in his form, he feels, was the result of the changes he tried to bring into his game.
He says he has left the transitional phase behind and he could not have got a better platform to test his new-found skills than the Commonwealth Championships, starting here on Sunday.
"I made a lot of changes in my playing style to meet the modern requirements. When I started, the game was predominantly forehanded. Now you can`t survive without a good backhand punch. So I had to develop it and while trying it out I lost a lot of matches. Now it is time I performed," a motivated Kamal said.
He has easily been India`s most successful player at the Commonwealth Championships, winning the title in 2004 and being runner-up to Gao Ning of Singapore in the last edition in Glasgow in 2009.
His best was at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, where he won the singles gold after guiding India to their first-ever gold in the team event.
This time, Kamal feels his best chance to win the gold is in doubles and team championship.
"Singapore is obviously the team to beat despite Gao Ning`s absence. We have a balanced team too and with England coming with a weak team, we should reach the final. Then anything can happen in the final and don`t forget we are playing at home," said Kamal, adding that he is also hoping to defend his doubles title with Subhajit Saha.
As for his club in Germany, Kamal has exciting things to talk about.
"I have been training with the best in the business; the atmosphere is so professional. We have two fitness trainers all the time, one for just to operate ball machine, something we don`t have here."
How is it playing alongside Boll, a twice World Cup winner and six-time European Champion?
"He is so cool. Even if he wins a big tournament, the next day he will be talking about something else at breakfast. Overall, I have learnt a lot from the Germans, who pay a lot of attention to minutest of details. Sometimes I even get frustrated thinking why I can`t play like them," said the lanky paddler, who can`t wait to get back to Germany for another season with Borussia Dusseldorf.
The slump in form also saw the six times national champion lose his dominance in the domestic circuit but he still remains India`s top player at the world stage by some distance. Anthony Amalraj (ranked 150th) has not been able to break the top-100 barrier for a long time and 19-year-old Soumyajit Ghosh is No.187.
"They are able to beat me because they know my game all too well and they don`t have that fear. But with international players, they have a mental block. Amalraj has been around for some time but not been able to make much impact. For Ghosh the time is right now. He needs to create the impact before people start taking him seriously."
He gets into a spot when you ask him about the presence of two top-100 players from India.
"I don`t remember when it happened last. Hopefully, we will see more players in that bracket by the end of my generation."
And when does he plan to hang up his racquet?
"Playing in the 2016 Olympics is my main aim. I hope I have the staying power to last for three more years. Having failed to qualify for the London Games, I am desperate to make it to Rio."
He (Major Dhyan Chand) is inspiration personified. He became synonymous with hockey. He became the parameter of hockey by which other player's calibre is measured.
Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal