“This year, there is no clear favourite (for the National title). No one knows how well others are playing.”
These words from nine-time champion Sharath Kamal aptly summed up the scenario on the eve of the National table tennis championship on Friday.
Looking leaner and fitter due to his training regimen in the last 11 months, Sharath said he was ready to chase a 10th title in the championship that has remained very special to him.
Speaking to Sportstar at the Tau Devi Lal Indoor Stadium, Panchkula, Sharath said, “Playing for the National title is different from any other title. Over the years, I have enjoyed the challenges. Apart from the younger players coming for autographs, photographs and tips to improve their game, I think my presence helped the sport in a small measure.
“But this year, I don’t consider myself as the favourite. G. Sathiyan (seeded two) is hungry to win his first, Harmeet Desai is keen to retain the title, comeback-man Soumyajit Ghosh wants to prove a point and the young brigade, led by Manav Thakkar, is determined to make the most of this platform. So expect some very good contests,” he said.
With this championship providing the testing ground for members of the Indian squad bound for Doha to play four important tournaments, the players are sure to give off their best.
The squad comprising Sharath, Sathiyan, Harmeet, A. Amalraj, Manika Batra, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Reeth Rishya and Archana Kamath will take part in the WTT Contenders (March 3-6), WTT Star Contenders (March 8-13), World Singles (March 14-17) and Asian Olympic Qualifiers (March 18-20).
As things stand, Indians look almost certain to seal two Olympic spots each section by March 20. Even if they fall short of making the ‘cut’ in the qualifying events, the high world rankings of Sharath (32nd), Sathiyan (37th) and Manika (63rd) could play a role in helping them to qualify.
Lower-ranked Sutirtha will be eyeing a spot from the South-Asian qualifiers, held as part of the Asian qualifiers for the Olympic Games.
Sharath also hopes to make the Olympic mixed doubles draw in the company of Manika Batra. “We have a good chance and we assess our prospects in Doha,” said Sharath who along with Manika claimed the mixed doubles bronze in the 2018 Asian Games.