Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra make domestic returns

Harmeet Desai, who was part of the bronze-winning Indian men's team at the Asian Games, will also be competing, while G. Sathiyan will be absent.

Manika Batra (L) and Sharath Kamal won bronze in mixed doubles at the Asian Games.   -  AFP

The return of two of the sport’s biggest stars, Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra, will be watched with interest as the 11Sports National-ranking table tennis tournament (held in memory of Sudesh Shelar, a former Maharashtra State player) begins at the Balewadi Sports Complex here on Friday.

Harmeet Desai, who was part of the historic bronze-winning Indian men’s team in the Asian Games, will be competing here, after plying his trade in the Polish league for a while. However, G. Sathiyan will not be playing as he is busy in the Bundesliga league. Also missing in action will be Manav Thakkar and Archana Kamath, who will be representing the country in the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.

Read: Sharath, Manika and Sathiyan achieve career-best rankings

Siddhesh Pande, who clinched his maiden men’s title in the East Zone recently in Guwahati,
will be eager to add one more to his kitty in his home state. Sutirtha Mukherjee was unstoppable in Guwahati, losing just four games in the tournament. There is no reason why the 22-year-old representing Haryana shouldn’t be aiming for her third women's National-ranking crown.

It will not be easy for India’s top paddlers, though. The balls, the tables and the environment will arguably play a role in how much they progress. It is also a fact that youngsters nowadays play without much fear against them.

The eight-time National men’s champion hasn’t done well in the two tournaments he has played so far. First, he lost in the round of 32 to S. Snehit, an up-and-coming 18-year-old in the North Zone tournament in Panchkula and then the star paddler bowed out to Ronit Bhanja in the pre-quarterfinals of the Inter-Institutional tournament in Coimbatore.

In comparison, Manika has done better. She claimed the North Zone title, reached the quarterfinals of the Inter-Institutional tournament before losing to Anannya Basak in the first round of the South Zone event (Vijayawada).

There will be quite a few contenders challenging the might of Sharath, Manika and Sutirtha. In the men’s category, other than Siddhesh, A. Amalraj will be nursing his wounds after losing in the pre-quarterfinals in the East Zone event. Madhurika Patkar, Pooja Sahasrabuddhe will also fancy their chances in the women’s.

It will be interesting to see how Sharath and Manika are seeded here. Will their world rankings be given preference or will the National rankings gain prominence as was practised in the last four tournaments?

Despite Sharath and Manika playing, it will not be a cakewalk for them and they know it, too. To throw a cliché, it could be anybody’s game here in the final National-ranking tournament of the season.