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In what can be looked upon as a major blow to Indian table tennis, coach Dejan Papic is yet to join the national team even when the Tokyo Olympics is only a year away. After a long wait, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) had roped in Papic as chief coach in place of the long-serving Massimo Costantini, who quit last year citing personal reasons. It is understood that Papic’s appointment has been cleared by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), but an approval from the Canadian is still awaited. The players are now, however, left to sustain themselves. Speaking to the Press Trust of India (PTI), India's premier paddler A. Sharath Kamal said, "Massimo (Costantini) had to go for some family issues and a coach was finalised but we don't know when he will be joining. Without a coach, it is difficult to prepare for the Olympics." There has been quite a considerable delay not just in the appointment of Papic, foreign coach of the senior Indian table tennis teams (men & women), but also as to when he will officially join the team. He, however, was with the Indian team at the world individual championships in Budapest as an 'official' where he did interact with all the senior Indian male and female players. He was expected to join the team this month with the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Cuttack supposed to be his first assignment at home. At a time when the team's preparations in an Olympic qualification have hit a major roadblock with the players having to fend for themselves, Papic's absence in the team seem to be unsettling. “You see the results, it is just me, G. Sathiyan and Manika (Batra) is doing well. We are training on our own and taking care of our singles training but for doubles we need specialised coaching,” Sharath said.
According to a TTFI official, the federation is awaiting a response from Papic. "The Sports Authority of India has cleared his appointment and we have sent Papic his letter 4-5 days back. We are waiting for him to sign it and send us back," the official said. Four Indians had qualified for the Rio Olympics and Sharath is confident that the team will make the cut for the Tokyo Games. "We have a good chance of qualifying as a team for the Olympics. We are seeded between 9 to 11 and 16 teams qualify. We are still favourite to qualify," he said. "There is one tournament in January in Portugal through which we can qualify and for singles, we have an Asian qualification in April. If it doesn't happen then the world ranking will come into the picture but we should qualify," he added. Talking about his qualification chances, Sharath said, "I want to qualify during the qualification tournament. But if it doesn't happen, I will have to play every tournament till June, 2020 and from January to June there are 10 pro-tours, apart from world qualification team, Asian qualification, world championship, Asia cup in six months. I have to stitch myself up for every tournament. So I am just looking to produce my best performance in 8 tournaments instead of playing too many events."
“The coach came for the world championship. Now in next 11 months, he has to figure out everything. By the time he does, it will be December. Our preparation for singles is going on but mixed doubles is an issue.”