Thiruvananthapuram: There is quite a time lag between the second UTT National Ranking Championships, getting underway tomorrow at the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium here, and the first held in Hyderabad in June because of international events, including the recent Asian Games in Hangzhou. But it has no way dampened the spirits of the participants, eagerly waiting to thrive in domestic environs.
The unprecedented number of entries, totalling 1996 across 12 sections, is a testament to the popularity and significance of the national ranking championships. The championships, beginning with the men’s and women’s singles, may not have the likes of G. Sathiyan, Manika Batra and Manush Shah. However, there will be no lack of competition in the two categories, with 236 men and 172 women clashing for the top prize money and maximum points. Ace player and multiple CWG medal winner A. Sharath Kamal is part of the set of top paddlers, including Harmeet Desai, the top-ranked Indian in the world at No. 73, and Manav Thakkar, who follows him at No. 83.
Of course, the women’s segment will see the Asian Games doubles bronze medal winners, Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika, with the others that will have a brush with the achievers from Kolkata. In fact, Ayhika, who won the women’s singles title in Hyderabad, will gun for her second successive crown. She accounted for Diya Chitale in the final, but the latter will have a chance here to avenge the loss.
Understandably, the Table Tennis Association of Kerala (TTAK), the organisers, are overwhelmed by the response, and what makes the events more worthwhile for the participants is the English weather-like conditions and the famous indoor stadium in the heart of the capital city, besides the numerous tourist attractions.
No wonder the city will witness a deluge of table tennis 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, make their presence count when they compete in the close to Rs. 9-lakh prize money tournament.
National woman champion Sreeja Akula, after her modest outing in Hangzhou, would want to stamp her authority and pose a big threat to Ayhika and former champions Sutirtha and Archana Kamath. The young guns in both sections of the Under-19 category could make it a mouth-watering affair and challenge the star players that have held sway so far. That would make the contests rather interesting.
The Under-11, 13 and 15 Girls and Boys events have always remained a test for the organisers and the Competition Department, with their dotting parents around to encourage them all the time, sometimes overindulging! But it is both a happy and tricky situation for the Competition Department to schedule the events in such a way that keeps the kids going through the course enthusiastically.
Competition Manager N. Ganeshan and his referees and umpires’ team are ready with their plans. He said they will use 16 STAG tables, flooring and DHS balls for the senior events. A.S. Kler, his deputies T.G. Upadhyay and T. Bhaskar, 45 Blue Badge, International and National Umpires will provide the technical support for the next seven days.