Event Section
Sharath chases dream ninth title as Manika her second and PSPB their nth team trophies

 

Cuttack, January 3: When this city hosted the 62nd Senior Nationals in 2001, A. Sharath Kamal was nowhere near the finish line as the era was then dominated by S. Raman, Chetan Baboor, Soumyadeep Roy and Sourav Chakraborty. But within a couple of years, Sharath came to be noticed at Pune Nationals in 2003 where he finished runner-up. And by the next year he had emerged the champion, winning his first singles title at Manesar.

 

Since then he has added seven more to his name and when the 80th edition of the 11Even Sports Senior National Table Tennis Championships begin at the Nehru Indoor Stadium here from tomorrow, the top-ranked Indian in the world as well as his ardent fans in India would be praying for his success as the world No. 30 chases a record-breaking ninth singles crown.

 

Sharath’s resolve has given him the iconic status besides the record-equalling eighth national title in singles which he claimed at the Ranchi Nationals last year. Now Sharath is just a step away from becoming the lone Indian to go farther than Kamlesh Mehta, the first member of the eight-title club.

 

If he does that, Sharath would not only create history but could remain there as the lone Indian for a long time to come. The only challenge for him is his team mate G. Sathiyan, who has been in a terrific form with a proven record and is just a spot behind Sharath at No. 31 in the world. It is about the maturity he needs to bring about on table against the senior pro will be the clincher in a crunch final. However, one can certainly expect a classy final if they reach there.

 

Ever since Manika Batra’s performances at the CWG 2018 and Asian Games at Jakarta, her stocks had risen but when she was picked up for the ‘Breakthrough Star’ award by ITTF, it was the icing on the cake of her successful career. She was on the verge of winning her second national crown at Ranchi, but allowed Sutirtha Mukherjee to recover and upstage her. But Manika, world No 51 and the only Indian to be among top 100, has become a more matured paddler since her forays in the two Games and should start as the favourite for women singles title here.

 

However, the immediate focus of these players put together will be to navigate their teams to yet another title in both sections. PSPB’s men squad, comprising Sharath, Sathiyan, Anthony Amalraj, young Manav Thakkar, who could well be the top men singles seed, and Sudhanshu Grover has all the firepower as their women’s team, led by Manika, young Archana Kamath, and veterans Madhurika Patkar and Mouma Das.

 

The rest of the teams—36 in men and 35 in women—would only be making efforts, even if they are futile, in their chase to a top-podium finish. However, if their attempts take them anywhere near the podium, they would be happy to have done their job diligently.

 

For the individuals, the prize money will be equally important as over Rs. 10 lakh to be won after TTFI increased the total composed by 10 percent and double the number of ranking points.  

 

There teams have been divided into eight groups of four and five in the men and women’s draw. For team events, matches will be played on 14 tables with Stag International providing synthetic flooring and tables and balls.

 

According to N. Ganeshan, the competition manager, C.L. Thade has been named as referee for the championships. He will have the support of veteran T. G. Upadhya with Atoor Satheese. Besides, there will be 60 Blue Badge, international and national umpires.

 

The Championships are hosted by Odisha State Table Tennis Association after the last event, Junior and Youth Nationals, held in 2006. The hosts have taken sufficient care to provide teams with all facilities, including making elaborate arrangements for food and good playing amenities.