Vadodara: A cursory look at the 1,923 entries for the third UTT National Ranking Table Tennis Championships, beginning tomorrow at the SAMA Stadium, suggests two things: the significance of the event and the players’ intent to keep their rankings in the top bracket at all times.
The new thinking among the players is perhaps because of the leeway in TTFI’s selection criteria that allow the best-four rankings out of seven contests across sections, besides in the mixed doubles. The selection of players for international events hinges on the cumulative points awarded for world and national rankings. Though the top 50 ranked paddlers get an advantage over the rest, several of our players have not been able to maintain the world rankings, forcing them to take national ranking events like the one at Vadodara seriously.
Only Manika Batra has the WR luxury and can afford to skip such tournaments and concentrate on WTT events. But not the others, including the once the top-ranked Indian, G. Sathiyan. Sharath Kamal had competed in the first two ranking championships and has not sent his entry for the event here like Manav Thakkar, who is a local boy (from Surat). Barring them and Manika, all the top players, including reigning national champions, are in the fray, trying to up the ante before the selection for the World Championships and Olympic qualifications early next year.
The Table Tennis Association of Baroda hosted in January the first tournament after the new executive body of TTFI took charge, and it is hosting the second tournament in the same calendar year. Notwithstanding the festival season travel rush, the players’ enormous support lends something about the venue, an ideal stadium environment to conduct a tournament of this magnitude in this part of Gujarat.
The absence of Manav may not hurt the locals much as Manush Shah and Harmeet Desai, who are among the top-ranked players, will fill the void created by Manav, and go for a shot at the title. Of course, a host of other paddlers from the state would lend vocal support to them even as they contest for top positions.
Of course, the Asian Games doubles bronze medal winners Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika will rub shoulders with the rest to prove their value addition. Ayhika, who lost to Diya Chitale the title she won in Hyderabad, will gun for her second crown this season, while the junior from RBI will be flying high to square off again with the senior pro-Ayhika. Sreeja Akula would return with full vigour after injury rehabilitation.
The events get underway with the qualifications in Men, Women, U-19 Boys and U-19 Girls from tomorrow and will follow with the lower-age category events. After the first four days, the city will witness a deluge of players, especially the younger lot, accompanied by their parents and occupying every hotel in and around the stadium. Similarly, players in the rest of the categories, particularly above under-15, would make their presence count when they compete in the close to Rs. 9-lakh prize money tournament.
Competition Manager N. Ganeshan said the organisers would use STIGA equipment besides DHS balls for the senior events. Mangesh Mopker will be the referee and ably assisted by Deepak Sarvaiya and S. Sridhar as his deputy. They will rely on the national and international umpires to oversee the conduct of matches.