DUBAI // Rashid Abdul Hamid comes across as a cocky young man, but he can be brutally honest in his assessment of table tennis in the country as well. The senior team finished a disappointing fourth of five in the GCC Championship and Hamid is under no illusion about the daunting task ahead at the Asian Championships, which will be held in Lucknow, India, from November 16 to 22.
"The UAE playing in the Asian Championship is like our football team playing in South America," says the country's top player. "We know Asia will not be easy for us," says Hamid, the UAE No 1 who will be hoping to win the singles title on tomorrow. "We will have the Olympic and world champions. So in reality, the Asian championship can be tougher than the Worlds. "But for us, it is going to be a very good experience. It will be like a camp where we can learn from the world's best, gain experience and try to play at our best."
The UAE are ranked 76th in the world, with the sport being dominated by the Chinese, South Koreans and the Japanese in Asia, and the Germans and Austrians from Europe. To improve their position in the world, primarily among Gulf and Arab nations, the UAE Table Tennis Association have brought in Xiao Daili, the former Portuguese national team coach. "The players need more experience for these kind of tournaments and for the future," said Daili. "I think this tournament is an experience in itself.
"For the future, we have a lot of plans and I will discuss them with the federation. We are thinking long-term, which includes Olympic qualifications and the Arab Championships. We want to have our players in such events and achieve better results." Hamid is impressed by his new coach and predicts a brighter future soon. "When he came here, he knew what is UAE. He had seen the players earlier in a Pro Tour tournament in Al Ain. So he knows our level and he knows what we want and need.
"He is positive. He likes to work and just needs some time to create a better system with the national team. Once that is in place, I think we can do it." As Daili charts the future of the sport, Hamid is also busy planning his own rise up the world rankings. "I hope to be playing abroad next year," he says. "If I keep playing in just the UAE, it is not going to work for me, we are not professionals.
"I want to have a better future. For me, to be a better player and enter the top 100, it will not be easy. My ranking now is 415 or 416 [He dropped from 419 to 428 in the rankings released on Thursday], which is too bad. "So I need to play more Pro Tours, more international tournaments to rise up the rankings. That is the only way. "If I am going to have a good future then I can give more and more for maybe the next 15 years.