By the looks of it, 2017 promises to be a watershed year in Indian table tennis with the ITTF World Tour India Open beginning here on Tuesday and the cash-rich six-team pro league finally making its debut in July.
After June 2010, when India last hosted a ITTF Pro Tour event, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has managed the right to host a newly-christened World Tour event which offers $150,000 in prize-fund. This is a second-category ITTF event, behind the World Tour Platinum series.
This week offers a good opportunity for home-grown talent to pick up some valuable ranking points. Combined with the favourable conditions, the Indians can be expected to pull off a surprise or two. Last time, Sharath Kamal reached the semifinals where he lost to top seed and eventual winner Dimitrij Ovtcharov. The World No. 5 is back as the favourite to keep the crown.
In the last six years, a lot of good has happened for the cream of the Indian players with Soumyajit Ghosh, Harmeet Desai, A. Amalraj and G. Sathiyan joining Sharath in playing the Club league in Europe.
Manika Batra, who qualified for the Rio Olympics, has broken into the World’s top-100. With the right guidance, this 21-year can realise her potential.
An indication of the quality on offer at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex here is the fact that Sharath and Manika are seeded 11th and 10th in singles. That also means that should an Indian reach the quarterfinals, he or she would have performed above expectations.
After two days of qualifying rounds, Ghosh, Sanil Shetty, Amalraj, Desai and Sathiyan are among those expected to make the main draw, which begins on Thursday.
In the men’s qualifying draw, following the league in 10 groups, the group-toppers will advance to the main draw. There will be a one-round knock match involving the runner-up of the 10 groups. The five winners along with one ‘lucky loser’ will complete the main draw of 32.
In the ladies section, where there are only 28 entries, all 12 from the qualifying phase will make it to the main draw. The qualifying league, with four groups of three each, will only ascertain the placing of these 12 girls in the main draw, where the top four seeds enjoy a bye into the second round.
In the youth (under-21) section for men and women apart from doubles, there is no qualifying phase.
Top seedings (plus Indians):
Men: 1. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (Ger), Vladimir Samsonov (Blr), 3. Koki Niwa (Jpn), 4. Yuto Muramatsu (Jpn), 5. Yuya Oshima (Jpn), 6. Paul Drinkhall (Eng), 7. Benedikt Duda (Ger), 8. Robert Gardos (Aut). 11. Sharath Kamal (Ind).
Women: 1. Doo Hoi Kem (Hkg), 2. Lee Ho Ching (Hkg), 3. Georgina Pota (Hun), 4. Matilda Ekholm (Swe), 5. Huajun Jiang (Hkg), 6. Sakura Mori (Jpn), 7. Jeini Shao (Por), 8. Ng Wing Nam (Hkg), 10. Manika Batra (Ind).
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