Top paddlers’ return for West Zone TT promises good competitions

Pune, October 4: There is some good news at last. A. Sharath Kamal, the top-ranked Indian in the world at No. 31, and Manika Batra, the new icon, will be part of the star parade at the 11Sports National Ranking (West Zone) Table Tennis Championships, beginning at the Mhalunge-Balewadi Sports Complex here from tomorrow.

This has come as shot in the arm for the organizers, Sudesh Shelar Memorial Foundation, which is conducting the tournament in memory of the national-level player and sports administrator, who passed away in 2006. This is the first ever venture at national level by the foundation.

Harmeet Desai, who played a major role in India’s medal hunt at Gold Coast (CWG) and Jakarka (Asian Games), has joined the parade, but G. Sathiyan with his league commitment abroad has not taken the plunge yet. However, he did participate in the Institutional championships and emerged as the men singles champion.

Both Manav Thakkar, winner of two titles this season, and Archana Kamath, will miss the tournament as they are representing India at the Youth Olympics, beginning October 6, at Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Except for these aberrations, the West Zone championships promise the usual challenges and god competitions with contenders trying to win the last zonal before the nationals get underway from December.

Anthony Amalraj, who won title at Vijayawada, would like to add the West Zone crown while Harmeet will look to upstage him. But Siddesh Pande, who became a surprise winner at East Zone, should be itching to lift the trophy a second time. He was simply superb at Guwahati.

The return of Manika Batra could see tight contests for the top podium finish as challengers Suthirtha Mukherjee, (South and East Zone winner), Pooja Sahasrabudhe (Central Zone winner) and Divya Deshpande (Institutional champion) would like to make the crown their own as Manika is coming into the tournament with little match practice.

The youth and junior paddlers have done themselves proud by challenging the authority of fancied seniors time and again. So have been the Cadet players with new faces emerging every tournament.

The prize money apart, which Rs. 7.47 lakh, there are some incentives on offer from the organizers for 10 under-15 players, who have a lot of potential. “We would be paying Rs. 50,000 each to the 10 selected (ideally five in each section) and support them,” said Rajesh Shelar, ex-international player and the brother of Sudesh. “We have raised the funds from our friends to help promote young kids, especially those in real need,” he added.

The open draw for top-ranked 16 men and eight women paddlers, conducted today at the venue by chief referee T.G. Upadhya, has given both Amalraj and Suthirta the top slots, respectively. And it is up to them to live up to the seeding.

According to the referee, 16 STAG tables, Stag plastic balls and flooring will be used during the seven-day competition, which kicks off with men and women groups matches, followed competition in Youth section. The chief referee will be assisted by deputies in A. Satheese and Rohit shinde who will be supported by 45 Blue Badge, international and national referees.