A galaxy of international stars, including Olympic champions Ma Long and Chen Meng from China, will rub shoulders with the likes of India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra when the World Table Tennis (WTT) Star Contender Goa, the biggest event in the sport to grace Indian shores, begins on Monday.
Spectators will be in for a huge treat with the who’s who of the table tennis world, including the top-three ranked Chinese in the world in both the men’s and women’s sections, set to exhibit their mastery during the week-long tournament to be played at Panjim’s Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor stadium.
The 34-year-old Ma, widely regarded as the best to have ever played the game, is a two-time Olympic champion and will also have countryman and rival Fan Zhendong, the current world champion and world No.1, for company in the men’s singles.
With reigning women’s world champion Wang Manyu of China and world No.3 Wang Chuqin in the men’s category also receiving wild cards, China is expected to make a clean sweep in both the men’s and women’s sections.
The Indian challenge in the men’s section will be led by Commonwealth Games gold medallist Achanta Sharath Kamal, who will have Sathiyan Gnansekaran for company, along with Payas Jain and Wesley Do Rosario in singles.
The other leading contenders in the men’s game are world No. 4 Tomakazu Harimoto of Japan, world No. 6 Truls Moregard of Sweden, No. 8 Lin Yun-Ju from Chinese Taipei and No. 9 Darko Jorgic from Slovenia.
On the women’s side, Manika Batra, ranked 34th in the world, will spearhead the Indian challenge with Sreeja Akula and Suhana Saini.
Batra would be buoyed by her success in the ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup tournament in Bangkok, where she became the first woman paddler from the country to win a medal -- a bronze -- defeating three-time Asian champion Hina Hayata of Japan last year.
World No. 5 Hayata is again in the WTT Star Contender Goa draw, along with China’s Chen Meng, her countrymate and world No. 1 Sun Yingsha, world No. 8 Kasumi Ishikawa from Japan, world No. 9 Doo Hoi Kem from Hong Kong-China and world No. 10 Ying Han from Germany.
Batra, the top-ranked Indian player, recently said that playing the WTT Star Contender Goa at home, would be an experience in itself, indicating she would be drawing inspiration from the home crowd to excel on the big stage.
The main draw of the event will start from March 1, after two days of qualifications scheduled for February 27 and 28.
It would be a treat for the local crowd to see Olympic champions Ma Long and Chen Meng in action for the first time in India and Sathiyan summed it up succinctly, saying every single match is going to be tough.
“The field is incredibly strong, so all the matches are going to be tough. I hope as many fans as possible will come and support us in Goa.” The event will offer India the platform to demonstrate its ability not just to host more world-class table tennis events and drive growth and development of the sport within the country but also become the motivation for home bred paddlers to show they are no longer pushovers.
The men’s doubles main draw will see Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan lead the Indian challenge along with Harmeet Desai and Manav Vikash Thakkar, while Batra along with Archana Girish Kamath will be seen in action along with the duo of Sreeja Akula and Diya Parag Chitale in women’s doubles.
Akula, the national women’s champion hailing from Hyderabad, has experienced the high of a Commonwealth Games gold in mixed doubles in Birmingham last year along with Sharath Kamal and she would be all geared up for the challenge in women’s doubles.
Akula, after qualifying for the WTT Championships (Durban, May 2023) singles draw in January in Qatar, played a WTT Contender event in Jordan where she gave a tough fight to Mima Ito of Japan, going down in four games in the round of 32.
In the mixed doubles main draw, three Indian pair will be seen in action -- Manika Batra/G Sathiyan, Manav Vikash Thakkar/Archana Girish Kamath and Suhana Saini/Wesley Do Rosario.
A total of 13 Indians in the men’s singles category, including Manush Utpalbhai Shah, Sanil Shetty and Harmeet Desai, while 15 in the women’s section, including Archana Girish Kamath and Reeth Tennison, will vie for a spot in the main draw.
Three rounds of qualifying spread over two days will begin the official proceedings of the USD 2,50,000 tournament.
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