Event Section
Battlelines drawn before the Nationals


Indore, January 2: After an unprecedented 2020 that kept the sportspersons mostly indoor, 2021 opened the avenues for them to step out and enjoy outdoor sports as well, thanks to the Tokyo Olympics. Emboldened as they were, the international and national federations followed suit.


And TTFI, taking a few leaves out of these books, successfully conducted three National Ranking events—Panchkula and Mohali, Dehradun, and Pondicherry—the mainstay for the players to log vital points that essentially provide them with the launchpad to reach international stages.


Usually, the national federation conducts five zonal events, with the three Nationals to follow. But squeezing all of them in a short time was a risky proposition. In that sense, the UTT National Ranking (Central Zone) Table Tennis Championships, beginning at the Abhay Prashal and conducted by Madhya Pradesh Table Tennis Association here tomorrow, will be the fourth and last such opportunity for the players to reap the benefits.


Understandably, the Central Zone events have pulled in 1109 players, including the second-highest ranked player in the world, G. Sathiyan, with as many as 228 and 148 competing in men’s and women’s singles, respectively, notwithstanding the absence of A. Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra. Yet, the significance of the ranking championships is not misplaced as the total entries of 1843, across 12 categories, speak volumes of the popularity of these events among the country’s paddlers.


Manav Thakkar, who missed out on the chance to win the men’s singles title at Dehradun and Pondicherry, will be itching to go for the crown despite Sathiyan’s presence. After winning the Petroleum men’s singles title just a couple of days ago here, he would be oozing with confidence to go for one last hurrah before the Senior Nationals in Shillong later this month. 


Sathiyan, who finished third, could be top-seeded on the basis of his world rankings for this tournament with Sanil Shetty behind him. But Manav, who beat Sathiyan in the Petroleum semi-finals and the possible third-seed, could find himself drawn in the first half and facing Sathiyan in the semi-finals yet again. A clear picture will emerge only after the open draw. Left-handed Shetty is also in red-hot form, having claimed the title in Dehradun, and so is Harmeet Desai, who bagged it at Pondicherry. These are the four title aspirants to watch out for at Indore, with the battle intensifying at every stage.


Three players—Prapti Sen, Sutirtha Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula—have shared the three titles in the women’s singles so far. But there will be a fourth contender in Archana Kamath challenging their supremacy. The PSPB paddler won her maiden women’s singles crown, accounting for young Suhana Saini in the Petroleum meet the other evening.


Suhana, who failed to repeat Mohali and Dehradun performances at Pondicherry, has come of age after her three bronze medals at the Portugal Worlds. She is a confident youngster with no baggage, and that is also her USP which she uses to take on the best in business. In the Petroleum semis, she accounted for Reeth Rishya before losing 2-4 to Archana in the final. In other words, one can look up to a fascinating women’s singles final, with the fivesome training their guns. But they can wait until the group matches in both sections get over before the main draw begins the day after.


Competition Manager, N. Ganeshan, said that 21 Stag tables—and balls—will be used for the championships to sustain the number of matches. He also said that Dr Atul Dubey will be the chief referee for the tournament, with Mangesh Mopker as his deputy. They will be assisted by 45 Blue Badge, international and national umpires during the championships.