AMN / Hyderabad
Will he score a Perfect 10? That is the question uppermost in the minds of not just Sharath Kamal, but millions of his fans as the UTT 81st National Table Tennis Championships get underway at the Saroonagar Indoor Stadium here tomorrow.
After having won the sixth singles title—he was stuck for quite some time there—Sharath was able to win back-to-back titles at Manesar, Ranchi and Cuttack for his record score of nine. But the tenth crown, if he manages to win here, would really put him in a rare club of Hall of Fame, making him stand tall and alone!
However, it’s an uphill task considering the form Sharath had run into during the season and the dwindling motivation, not to speak of the recent showing in the Olympic Team Qualification event at Gondomar (Portugal). He has admitted that at 37, he would need to respect his body which may not be cooperating with his alert mind.
Even otherwise, young gun like G. Sathiyan would be after him at the Nationals, having missed his maiden title by a whisker at Cuttack last January, and other contenders in Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and Amal Raj are inspired enough.
Then there are teams like Haryana, which has turned the tables on any team, and hosts Telangana, who have a good crop of players that will vie for the top honours.
But before they reach the stage of individual events, they as a Petroleum Sports Promotion Board team, would want to retain the coveted men’s team trophy, while their women, who lost it to West Bengal last year, will go all out to wrest the trophy from West Bengal.
There are 36 men’s teams and 33 in women’s squads in fray for the team titles but the tag of favourites is still with PSPB men and, to some extent, with their women, who are weakened by the absence of Manika Batra. But youngsters like Krittwika Sinha Roy, who finished behind Archana Kamath in women singles at Cuttack, and Anusha Kutumbale will have to pitch in their might with Madhurika Patkar and Reeth Rishya, the latter ran into the form of her life at the Institutional championships, narrowly missing the singles title.
Similarly, the Bengal and the Railways, like Maharashtra, have blooded with young talents and they are capable of causing some upsets. Tamil Nadu with two associations—TTTA and TNTTA—are a weak side and they don’t come anywhere near the other real contenders. Like Tamil Nadu, two teams from West Bengal—Bengal A and Bdengal B—will be competing this year after the two associations, West Bengal and North Bengal, came together to form a single unit.
In team events, men and women’s teams have been divided into eight groups each with the eight teams that entered the quarterfinals occupying the top slots in each group. All in all 582 players representing various states have entered the tournament, making it one of the biggest in recent times.
The competition department of TTFI will employ 16 Stag Americas tables during the team events as well as when the individual matches begin with the DHS balls and Stag flooring in use. The team finals are slated for January 30 and the singles finals on February 2. The qualification matches for the individuals begin soon after the teams’ finals.
On the technical side, the team led by competition manager N. Ganeshan, will have Mangesh Mopkar as referee. He will have the assistance from deputy referees Anil Dubey and T.G. Upadhya who will be supported by 60 Blue Badge, International and National umpires.