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Massimo Costantini returned to India as the national coach of Table Tennis by the end of 2016. By then, Table Tennis and the players were pretty much depleted after a disappointing display in the Rio Olympics. All players exited the tournament in the first round which included, Sharath Kamal, Soumyajit Ghosh, Manika Batra and Mouma Das. Costantini had earlier coached India during 2009-10 season. Under Costantini's leadership, the Indian players saw a considerable improvement in their technique, physical fitness and mental tenacity. The players also improved their world rankings, Sharath Kamal won one ITTF World Tour title and of course a five medal winning performance at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. To win medals at the International level, players need to perform and win at a consistent level' said Costantini in his interview to the ITTF.
When you look back at previous performances of India at the Commonwealth Games, India had a good show at the 2010 event where they won 5 medals. When you compare their outfit and result of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, there wasn't really much to show. In all of the table tennis events, India managed to get only a Silver medal in the Men's doubles match that was awarded to Sharath Kamal and Anthony Amalraj. Soumyajit Ghosh and Harmeet Desai did not advance further than the Quarter finals. Similar was the case with Women's Singles too. The Women's double and the Mixed double events did not bear any fruit as all pairs didn't advance further than the Quarter final. However after the disappointing run in the Olympics, having another dismal run in the Commonwealth Games and the players would know a barrage coming their way, questioning their attitude and desire. Costantini brought in all the players that were training at different facilities to work together. With having them brought together, he made sure players started developing a culture and trusting each other, a feeling of togetherness, a feeling he had inculcated during his earlier stint. Its not like the players needed more pressure with objectives of the magnitude such as Commonwealth, World Championships and Olympics. The motivation to upscale themselves has always been there, but all they needed was a direction and Costantini provided that. When you look at the tournaments between 2016 and 2018, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra are the most improved players by far. Sathiyan won the Belgium Open in 2016 and 2017 and had decent runs at various other events throughout the calendar. Manika Batra on a similar note has had a fantastic 2017, where she had some performances in the World Tour events.
The way I see it, Indian players are never short of talent and potential, but there's always something missing to reach that final pinnacle. They just needed to be guided the right way
Below is the progress graph for Sathiyan and Manika respectively:Manika has climbed from 155 to 58 in the rankings within 2 years. Sathiyan on the other hand has jumped from 110 to 46 in the rankings. Clearly, they are making progress. Sharath Kamal is also ranked in the top 50 at 48. The togetherness approach is something of a trademark with Costantini and he proved it once again by bringing all the players in one camp and train them together. Costantini's looked around and wanted to ingrain good techniques to the players. He held a training camp for all the players in Europe, a month before Commonwealth Games. There he worked on improving the techniques and performing better transitions. Additionally, what has helped the players develop further is the start of Ultimate Table Tennis League. The league that started last year created a platform for Indian players to play against the world's best. Earlier, in the absence of UTT, they had to travel to Europe and other countries to get first-hand experience of playing with the elite. Now with UTT in place, most of the Indian players not only get to play with/against the world's best but also get to share space within a team. They have the opportunity to glean various tit-bits from them, technique improvisation and more importantly on how to develop a champion mindset. With all the training regimes complete and decent performances in the Hungarian and Qatar tours, the team was feeling hopeful before the Commonwealth Games. One of their major objectives beckoned. But to the surprise of everyone, the table tennis team won Gold at the team events in both Men and Women categories. First, the Women's team stormed into the Finals after defeating England on a 3-0 aggregate, and then blasted away Singapore by an aggregate score of 3-1 in the Finals. Noticeably, Manika Batra defeated Fend Tianwei, No. 4 in the world in her singles match. She had never beaten her before. What a moment to break that duck. The Men's team was not far behind. They met a challenging opponent with Singapore. The semi-finals lit up the stage with a place in the finals up for grab, the play went to the last match. Sharath defeated Xue Jie Pang in straight games to book India's place in the finals. They then met Nigeria in the finals whom, they easily defeated with an aggregate score of 3-0. They also tried different combination of pairs when it came to Mixed Doubles category. To make sure the pairs had balance and complemented each other game style, Sharath Kamal paired up with Mouma Das and reciprocated it with pairing Sathiyan Gnanasekaran with Manika Batra. This combination has worked wonders at Gold Coast, as both pairs have now reached the Semi Finals of the Table Tennis championship. https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/985088665197019136 With a promising team event outing and securing the prize in both categories, team India can look forward to a promising Singles outing too. Surely, Costantini's work is bearing fruit. With a couple more medals in the Singles event, expectations for this bunch will definitely rise. The World Championships and The Olympics are the next major events to dart out. Hope for the best!