Greater Noida, November 2: The field for the ITTF 2018 YOG Continental Qualifications for Asia, beginning at the Gautam Buddha University here from tomorrow, is very strong with as many as 18 boys and 16 girls competing for what would a dream-come-true passage to Latin America.
But only the best four from each section will be able to plan their early travel schedule to Buenos Aires for the 3rd Youth Olympic Games to be held in Argentina next year.
And the level of competition can be gauged from the field which has the likes of Harimoto Tomokazu from Japan, Yun-Ju Lin from Taipei, Chugin Wang from China and Daeseong Cho from Korea, in the order of seeding, with India’s Manav Thakkar at the fifth spot. Then there are the others from Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Iran and more.
The 14-year-old Harimoto, whose sensational title-win over Germany’s Timo Ball in the Czech Open this August—he became the youngest paddler to achieve a rare distinction surpassing Chinese Yu Ziyang who did it as a 16-year-old—is too fresh for anyone to forget. The win launched him to his career-best ranking of World No. 13 from No. 20.
Japanese Harimoto Tomokazu
Acrowd-puller that he is, Harimoto is no stranger to the country’s sport’s followers who had watched him beat Indian ace A. Sharath Kamal in the semifinal of Indian Open held in February this year at New Delhi. The wonderkid, naturally, will be a hot favourite along with the three others as per world ranking points and seeding, based on their consistency. This leaves Manav with little option but to play his best to topple one of them to be a part of the elite four to book the berth.
No doubt, Manav Thakkar has done enough to retain his top slot in the WJC world standings with a title win in the India Junior and Cadet Open (Premium) here yesterday and a place in the Luxembourg Finals next year, but qualifying for the Argentina Games will require a monumental effort from him.
As for the other Indian in fray, Archana Girish Kamath, the job will be even more difficult. The girl from Karnataka is getting beaten even by lesser players. In the WJC, she could not enter the quarterfinals as West Bengal’s Surbhi Patwari knocked her out in the previous round.
Known for her consistency in her category, the 16-year-old Indian, who has beaten the best in business, including world championships silver medallist Tze Wing Mak from Hong Kong in the WJC Finals at Indore, needs to up her confidence to a new level and be at her best when competing against the top Asians. Realistically, Archana stands a very little chance.
Japanese Miu Hirano, the top-seed, Yingsha Sun from China at No. 2, Jinnippa Sawettabut from Thailand at No. 3—the second-seeded Thai went down to India’s Yashini Sivasankar in WJC pre-quarters—and Pei-Ling Su from Taipei at No. 4 will be breathing down the neck of Archana, who is seeded fifth.
The task for both Indians will be even more difficult because only 28 players (14 in each section) will qualify from the six continental events while the total participation at the Games is limited to mere 64 paddlers. Apart from the continental qualifications, the six ‘Road to Buenos Aires’ series will provide another opportunity to the ones that missed out here.
But that is only by a long shot and the two Indians will be wary of the job at hand when they enter the arena tomorrow.