Having narrowly missed a direct entry to the 2012 London Olympics, ace Indian paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal has now set his sights on next year's Asian Qualification Tournament to secure a berth in the quadrennial extravaganza.
"I have two more chances left to qualify for the London Games. First through the Olympics qualifiers for the Asian region to be held in Hong Kong in April and World Team Championships in May next year. Ideally, I should qualify through the Asian Tournament," Sharath told PTI from Germany, where he is training for the Chile Pro Tour Table Tennis tournament to be held next week.
"If you look at my past two Olympics record, I secured my berth through the Asian qualifiers and did not have to wait for the World Championships," he added.
The two-time Olympian (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) and the first Indian to win a pro ITTF event, the 2010 Egypt Open, Sharath failed to qualify for the London Olympics by virtue of being five ranks below the cut-off mark.
He lost 1-4 to Chinese Taipei's Chen Chien-An in the first round of the World Championships in Rotterdam this May.
"That was disappointing. I should have qualified for the London Games via that event only. I lost the chance to qualify directly by five ranks following my first round exit in Rotterdam. Had I made the third round, I would have qualified directly," said Sharath.
Sharath will be next seen in action at the Chile tournament to be held in Santiago from August 10-14.
India is fielding 18 of its best players at the prestigious event where Sharath is seeded third in the men's section.
"It's a world ranking tournament. This event will help us in our preparation for the Asian Championship that will take place in Beirut in September. Close to 20 world ranking events take place around the world in a year. We generally participate in 7-8 tournaments, depending on the availability of finances," Sharath said.
Apart from Sharath, India have four other seeded players in the top 16, which is exceptional in a Pro Tour event. The country also boasts of three seeds in the women's section.
Sharath is partnering Soumyadeep Roy in the doubles in Chile Pro Tour and the duo is seeded second there.
"This shows the increasing status of Indian table tennis all around the world. We have so many seeded players in this high ranking event and that is great for us. Indian paddlers are getting a lot of exposure by playing abroad and that will hold them in good stead for future tournaments," said Sharath.
After the Chile championship, the Indian paddlers will participate in the Asian Championship in Beirut in September, Swedish Open in October and Qatar and Kuwait Open in February apart from national and state level tournaments.
Asked about Swedish coach Anders Johansson turning down the offer to coach the national team, Sharath said, "He is a very renowned coach and he knows me personally. It did affect our preparation for the Olympics qualifiers a little bit but federation is working hard to find someone suitable for the job."
"We still have time to prepare for the crucial qualifiers but the federation should name a permanent coach at the earliest. Johansson is a good coach and it was disappointing not to get him on board. It is unfortunate that he can't come here. We had heard so much about him and were looking forward to work with him."
The team is now without a permanent coach following the expiry of Italian Massimo Constantini's tenure after the Guangzhou Asian Games.