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Hope and self-belief surface ahead of final Olympic qualifiers



NEW DELHI, May 8:  With loads of hopes and self-belief, a four-member Indian table tennis team left for Doha Tuesday morning to give it a shot at the World Olympic Qualification championships, beginning May 10. This is the final qualification chance for all paddlers who are aspiring to make it to the grand stage at London.

Ace player Achanta Sharath Kamal, national men’s and women’s champions Anthony Amalraj and Poulomi Ghatak and Kumaresan Shamini, will have to up their ante this time to make amends for their failure at the Asian Olympic Qualification Championships at Hong Kong last month, where it was a case of so near, and yet so far.

Sharath Kamal played some brilliant games, including against world No. 1 Ma Long, and had his chances of first finishing among the top four, then top seven, but the country’s premier paddler faltered at crucial times to miss the Olympic bus. So was the case with both Amalraj and Shamini.

Subsequently, two youths from Siliguri, Soumyajit Ghosh and Ankita Das, booked their London berths through continental quotas as the highest ranked players from the South Asian region.

At the Qatari capital event, which is between May 10 and 13, India have their last opportunity and also the best chance of clinching a spot each in men’s and women’s sections with almost all top players in Europe and Asia having already made the Olympic grade.

Both Bhawani Mukherjee and Leszek Kucharski, the two coaches accompanying the team, believe that the Indians will put their best foot forward at Qatar. “Sharath displayed excellent form at Hong Kong and we are sure he will not disappoint this time,” said Mukherjee, even as Kucharski agreed with him. “From what I saw of Sharath, he’s great player and can beat anyone on his day,” added the Polish coach.

However, with over 100 entries in the two sections, the event presents the toughest of qualifiers with only the finalists from the men’s and women’s events booking the Games berths. The three-day competition involves 16 qualifying groups of four players or more each, depending on the total number of entries. That means more matches if one is unlucky to have been clubbed in a larger group to reach the knockout stage.

Juniors off to Spain and Slovak

Meanwhile, a 14-member junior team, comprising six boys and six girls, also left this morning to participate in the Spanish Junior & Cadet Open at Girona (Spain) between May 9 and13 and from there they will proceed to Senec for the Slovak Junior Open, to be held from May 17 to 20. Both are ITTF Global Junior Circuit events and they offer great competition exposures to the young paddlers, said TTFI secretary-general Dhanraj Choudhary.

The team members in the boys’ section include Sudhanshu Grover, Abhishek Yadav, Vivek Bhargav, Birdie Boro, Utkarsh Gupta, Lalrinpuia, in the girls’ section it will be Reeth Rishya Tennison, Karnam Spoorthy, Manika Batra, Mallika Bhandarkar, Narsimha Priya Sundarajan and Senhora D’souza. They will be accompanied by coaches Surendra Deshpande and Subrata Roy.