The path-breaking twin medals at the Asian Games in Jakarta made his case stronger for the prestigious Padma Shri award, feels country' greatest ever paddler Sharath Kamal, who finally got lucky after finding his nomination being rejected on two previous occasions.
The 36-year-old, who had criticised the application process, said that the Padma honour is supremely special.
"It is my first civilian award, so it has to be right up there. I was out with friends when the news broke last night. My phone ran out of battery and it has been madness every since I got back home," the Chennai-based Sharath told PTI.
It was tough to ignore Sharath this time, considering how phenomenal 2018 was for the Indian table tennis.
He guided the men's team to a historic bronze at the Asian Games with a shock win over Japan, ending a 60-year wait for a medal in table tennis.
If that was not it, Sharath and rising star Manika Batra clinched a surprise bronze in mixed doubles to cap off a dream run at Asian Games, raising hopes of even an Olympic medal.
He now stands at a career-high 30 in the latest world rankings and broke Kamlesh Mehta's record of most national titles by winning his ninth crown earlier this month.
"It feels great to get this recognition, especially when you look at others who have been named for Padma Shri. After two failed attempts, I was not sure if I would get this time but considering the year we have had, anything was possible.
"Also, the entire application has become online and that has made the process more transparent. The fact that an athlete has to apply for it still remains but I don't know if you can do it any other way," said Sharath, who has been India's flag-bearer in table tennis for more than 15 years.
The performance last year encouraged Sharath to extend his career to at least the next Commonwealth and Asian Games but despite another feather in his cap, he remains non-committal about life after 2022.
For now, he is focused is on Olympic qualification for the Tokyo Summer Games, both in singles and mixed doubles. The entire squad is training without a head coach ever since Massimo Costantini left after the high of Asian Games.
It is impacting Sharath's preparation as well as the rest of his teammates.
"We are on our own as of now. If a coach was around, he could have done the planning like what all tournaments to play, where to train when. We all have to do it by ourselves," said Sharath, who still shuttles between India and Germany to fulfill his club commitments.
This year, I will be playing more ITTF Pro Tour events (for Olympic qualification in mixed doubles) than be in Germany," he added.
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