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Ankur, Suhana favourites for singles titles in table tennis event of Khelo India Youth Games 

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Indore: Fifteen boys and 16 girls are the fortunate ones with higher rankings in the Under-19 categories that will test the waters in the table tennis events that kickstarts the fifth edition of the Khelo India Youth Games’ Indore leg at the Abhay Prashal from tomorrow.

Of the 31 players, only three girls and two boys have the experience of having participated in the previous edition held in Panchkula and surviving the age bar.

Among the lot, Suhana Saini from Haryana and Ankur Bhattacharjee from West Bengal start as instant favourites to win the singles titles in their respective sections. Both can add another feather to their title caps if they get the right combination in the doubles. The absence of Payas Jain, who could have posed a threat to Ankur, has preferred an international event to the Youth Games here. He and Yashaswini won the mixed doubles in Surat.

Ankur and Suhana are fresh from their back-to-back title triumphs in the National Ranking championships held in Vadodara and Surat. Both the players won two titles each in Surat. Their form and the knack to come out of any tight situation, as one witnessed during the two recent events, particularly of Ankur, separates them from the rest of the players.

Suhana’s consistency has turned several heads, and what makes the cool Haryana paddler dangerous is her experience and the several international crowns to her credit. Ankur is an attacking player, and he never gives up. Besides the two titles in Surat bearing testimony to his overflowing talent, the Bengal boy has come a long way from his younger days and is a much-improved paddler.

But one cannot rule out challenges coming from Yashaswini Ghorpade of Karnataka, Risha Mirchandani, Pritha Vartikar and Taneesha Kotecha, all three from Maharashtra, and Anargaya Manjunath, also from Karnataka. But all of them have to put their inhibitions behind them before going to the table to beat Suhana. Jennifer Varghese, also from Maharashtra, is a good talent–she won but needs to push her envelope further to achieve stardom.

However, Ankur will be wary of Maharashtraa’s Jas Modi’s presence in their midst, who has made progress by leaps and bounds. On his day, he can pooh-pooh any challenge and make a dent in the reputation of even the best in business.

The problem of Divyansh Srivastava from UP is inconsistency. Even the talented left-hander Preyesh Raj Suresh from Tamil Nadu and K.J. Akash from Karnataka are sailing in the same boat. They will have to work hard to turn the tables on an in-form Ankur.

Nevertheless, the Khelo India Youth Games provides them all with an opportunity to excel and showcase their skills among the top 16 in their categories.

The open draw, later this evening, will divide the 15 boys into three and four players in four groups, and the 16 girls will form four groups of four players each. From the first stage, two players from each group will make the cut for the main draw, held on a knockout basis.

After the formal inauguration in Bhopal, the main venue for the Games, table tennis will begin one round each in the first stage for the boys and girls in the afternoon.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh, the host of the current edition, has chosen as many as nine cities–Bhopal, Gwalior, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Mandla, Balaghat, Khargone (Maheshwar), besides Indore to conduct 27 disciplines. However, New Delhi will host the cycling track events, as it did during the National Games last September.

The government painted the city and the venues with excellent branding that announces the hosts’ intention of doing it big and better. Only time will vouch if the state has managed to achieve the promotion of the Khelo India Youth Games, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

N. Ganeshan, the competition manager for table tennis, said he, Director of Competition Rinku Acharya, his team of technical officials, and the three-member jury, comprising A.S. Kler, Anil Dubey and T.G. Upadhyay, along with referee Mangesh Mopkar are raring to go.

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