SURAT : After phenomenal performances in the senior National Championship and Commonwealth Games, Telangana paddler Akula Sreeja is keen to make a strong impact in the 36th National Games.
"Although there are no ranking points to be won in the competition, it is a prestigious event. But playing for your State is a matter of pride. This will be my first National Games. All the top players will be in action. It is good preparation for the World Championship," she said, hoping to contribute to Telangana's medal haul.
"The welcome at the airport was really great and the organisers are taking care of everything really well. Our accommodation and food are of really good quality and I'm very happy to be here in Surat," she said, having enjoyed the carnival on Sunday evening. "We also participated in the tribal dance which was really fun."
Sreeja has been in the spotlight after her recent displays when she stole the thunder from players like Manika Batra. "Surely, I'm relishing the challenges. The success in the Nationals, where I won my maiden women's singles title, and then my Commonwealth Games Gold-winning show with Sharath Anna has given me more confidence. I want to maintain consistency."
Coached by Somnath Ghosh, Sreeja said she always dreamt of winning a title in the senior National championships. "I did not win a title in cadet, sub-junior, junior and youth nationals. Therefore, my maiden title gave me immense satisfaction, though I did not expect to win the title this year. I worked very hard for it."
Ranked World No. 73, Sreeja wants to break into the top 50. "Before next year's Asian Games, I want to be among the top 50. The Commonwealth Games and National Championships performances instilled greater belief that I can compete in major events. Asian Games would be the toughest of them all as the continent's best players will show up," she said.
Talking about her success in Birmingham in her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance, Sreeja said she owes the Gold to Sharath Kamal. "After I won the National title, Sharath Anna readily agreed to a suggestion by my coach to let me partner him in the Commonwealth Games. The rest is history," she said.
"Partnering Anna, as we call him, was a dream come true. He is a big inspiration. His behaviour on and off the court is amazing. We have all grown up watching him and others. He is the big game changer as far as table tennis is concerned in the country," she said, hoping to emulate her Commonwealth Games doubles partner.