CWG 2022: 40-year-old Sharath Kamal's day in the office - 3 matches, 3 wins, 2 medals assured

Sharath Kamal Achanta at the Commonwealth Games Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Achanta Sharath Kamal walked into the mixed zone dragging a chair behind him. The moment he got to where a couple of journalists were waiting for him, he plonked it down and collapsed into it. Next to him, Sreeja Akula laughed. Sharath offered a tired grin and a shake of his head.

That was a live-action re-enactment of Danny Glover's iconic line from Lethal Weapon: 'I'm too old for this s**t.'

Thing is, though, he isn't.

He may be 40, this may be his fifth Commonwealth Games, he may already have 10 CWG medals ("5 gold, ah"), but he approaches each game with the intensity of a debutant. "It's exhausting," he said after his third match in four hours.

His day had started at 10.10 am BST. Well, actually, a long time before that. He had been so nervous for his mixed doubles semifinal - the one event where he had never medalled - that he barely slept the previous night. "I was very nervous," he laughed. "I woke up at 2 AM, and couldn't sleep till 3. I woke up again at 5, and couldn't sleep till 6." Till he finally woke up properly an hour later for the day.

Almost on cue as he was saying this, an alarm went off on his smartphone. It was 2.50 PM. "I don't even know what this one's for!" he exclaims as he scrambles to switch it off. "It's just one alarm after another, our life these days."

Back to the start of the day. At 10.10 AM he officially began his day with a men's singles quarterfinal against Singapore's Izaac Quek. He won it in straight games: 11-6, 11-7, 11-4, 11-7. As straightforward as it comes at this level. Half an hour and he was done.

As he came out to the mixed zone, he was already shaking his head in anticipation of the weariness. He was tired, a little out of breath. The match had gone the 'easiest' way it could possibly have for him, but it had taken a lot out of him physically. It was a gentle reminder that as much as elite athletes make sport look easy, it really isn't. Looking effortless takes a lot of effort.

When asked how he was going to get himself back into the zone for his next match, he shook his head. "Very difficult, very difficult, very difficult. Whoever has made this schedule, we need to..." his voice trailing into a weary silence. "It's all about recovery and getting back some energy. What you eat, what you do..." he said as he sipped on his energy drink. "Of course, my experience helps," he said, looking at the positives of having been around forever. "Yesterday, in the last game, I was struggling to find focus. It was my sixth game of the day. I'd come here at 7.45-8 in the morning and it was 8 in the evening when I was playing that game. It was so difficult to find focus. This morning I was very happy that I could keep it tight."

Ending that first match today in half-an-hour meant he got around an hour and half's break till the men's doubles semifinal. That one, where he played alongside G Sathiyan against Australia's Nicholas Lum and Jee Minhyung, started at 12.25 pm.

And it went the distance. The Australians took the first game 11-8, before Sharath and Sathiyan equalised with an 11-9. They lost the next one again 10-12 before sweeping the fourth 11-1. In the final game, they were pushed but prevailed 11-8. An hour and ten minutes of intense table tennis later, they were in the final. An eleventh career CWG medal assured for Sharath.

Almost immediately, though, he was back for his third match. Sreeja Akula too had just about finished her epic semifinal against the great Feng Tianwei and Sharath walked into the changing room to see her crying. Which is where his experience, and natural leadership, kicked in again. He focused all his attention on her, convinced her to keep aside the pain and concentrate on the task at hand. Nothing like a win to help live past the agony of defeat.

So, at 2.00 PM, less than half an hour after his second match, he went out again for the mixed doubles semifinal. And he and Sreeja won. A twelfth career CWG medal assured for the great man. It was another five-gamer: and they had to dig deep to win 11-9, 11-8, 9-11, 12-14, 11-7 in slightly less than an hour.

"It was so intense," he said afterwards. "Especially both the doubles matches, they went down to the wire! Takes so much out of you." He hadn't even bothered to carry his gear out after the men's doubles, leaving it at the sidelines ahead of the mixed doubles. "I finished my match and just went and stood there... there was no question of warming down. You have to stay warmed up, focused, and ready to go."

It wasn't just physically draining, but mentally too. Where in the first match it was all about trusting himself and his game, the second was in partnership with someone he considers an 'equal' while the third was with a young up-and-comer. The difference in vibe could not have been more evident. Where Sharath and Sathiyan constantly told each other what to do, Sharath was the one directing Sreeja for most of their match, their mentor-student relationship thriving.

"Every time we played with different players, different styles. I played this match with long pimples, it was short in the one before... so you need to calibrate, adapt into different situations." He made it sound like the easiest thing in the world. "You need to adapt," he repeated, "without spending too much energy and trying not to complain about the whole thing, because what we've seen is that if you complain, it only pulls you down."

So without complaining, all that much, he did what he had to do. "At the end of the day, it's all about you getting there, doing the job. You just need to get things right and that was what we did."

Over five hours, he had spent more than two and a half hours at the table, playing - and winning - three high quality table tennis matches. Two semifinals and a quarterfinal. Three different medals on the line.

Come tomorrow, he'll be right back at it again. History beckons. "We can rest properly after all this is done, eh."