Indian table tennis teams can be the big surprise at Paris 2024, says head coach Costantini

by IANS |

Mumbai, July 8 (IANS) Insisting that even the table tennis powerhouses are keen to avoid playing India in the earlier rounds thanks to their exploits in the last 12 months, the Indian team’s coach Massimo Costantini exuded confidence that the players could spring a few surprises in both the team and individual events at the upcoming Paris Olympics, scheduled from July 26 to August 11.

India have qualified for both the men's and women's team events for the first time in the history of the Olympics and Costantini has been roped in to guide the players on the biggest stage. This will be his third stint with the Indian national team and the 66-year-old has witnessed the rise of Indian table tennis since he first came to India in 2009.

Under Costantini, India clinched a record eight medals, including three gold, at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and two bronze medals at the 2018 Asian Games.

"Qualifying for the team events is already an achievement because just 16 teams from across the world get to represent at the Olympics. It is difficult to say whether we will win a medal but I can definitely say that we can come up with a big surprise. There have been enough signals in the past six months that even teams like China are worried about playing against India early in the competition," Costantini said during an interview with Ultimate Table Tennis.

The Indian women’s team pushed China to the brink at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan earlier this year with Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula upsetting the world no. 1 and world no. 2 players respectively in the team’s 2-3 loss. Since then Sreeja has become the first Indian singles player to win a WTT Contender title in Lagos while the likes of Manika Batra and men’s stars including the experienced Achanta Sharath have struck form.

Costantini, whose second stint saw India win two Asian Games medals in 2018, has an excellent rapport with the Indian squad and has been closely following the development in Indian table tennis over the years. The Italian, who competed at the 1988 Olympics, felt that the start of Ultimate Table Tennis has been a game changer.

"UTT has provided Indian players an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience. The combination of having international coaches working with Indian coaches along with youth development programs has ensured that Indian players are ready to take on the best in the world," he said.

Speaking about the team’s preparation for the Paris Olympics, Costantini said he was currently in the process of assessing the level at which the players are playing and also working out the doubles combinations for the team championships as the Indian contingent participates in a few WTT events across the globe. “Our aim is also to come up with good results in these events so that we can improve our rankings so that we can avoid playing the top four countries before the quarter-final stage as the rankings will get updated before the Games and will determine the draw," he added.

The Indian men's team are currently ranked 14th in the world while the women are ranked 11th.

Costantini said the team would also know their opponents in Paris way in advance and that will help them prepare better. "The gap between us and the top teams is not that big. Since we will know our opponents in advance and we have the data and research about all these teams, we will have time to prepare well and tactically work on bridging that small gap."

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