Indians face stern challenge

Table tennis Indian Open : Just two top-10 men's players for country's richest tourney

Indians face stern challenge

 Indian paddlers face a stern test at home when Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour India Open kicks off on Thursday. The qualifying rounds begin on Tuesday at the Thyagaraj sports complex.

The USD150,000 meet is the richest table tennis event hosted by India. The men's singles has two top 10 players -- World No.5 - Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany and World No. 9 Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus. However, the top 10 stars in women's singles have given a skip to the event.

Ovtcharov, who is coming on the high of winning Lausanne Open in Switzerland, has already tasted success on the Indian soil. He had won the India Open in 2010 here when it was the part of the pro-tour, beating Achanta Sharath Kamal in the semifinals.

Testing ground

Not much has changed on the Indian scene since. Events like World Tour, hosted for the first time in India, continue to be the testing ground for the Indian paddlers. Sharath, at 34, is still the poster boy of Indian table tennis. With the world ranking of 62, he is the highest-ranked Indian and the only Indian men paddler to make the cut for the main draw. He leads the pack of talented youngsters like two-time Olympian Soumyajit Ghosh, G Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai and Amalraj Anthony. With only top 16 getting the direct entry into the men and women's main draw, all of them will have to make their way through the qualifiers.

Coach Massimo Constantini rates Sharath highly. “Table tennis is a technical sport and more suited to mature players. But then yes, you have to be fit. Going by Sharath's ranking, I at least expect him to reach the round of 16,” Constantini, who is having a second stint as Indian coach, told DH.

“Indians have the skills but they need to be consistent, be it their level or the style of the game. They have to tell themselves to not to lose to lower ranked players.”

In the women’s singles, Hong Kong duo of World No 11 Doo Hoi Kem and World No. 19 Ching Lee Ho lead the seedings. It has allowed four Indian girls, World No 88 Manika Batra (seeded 10th), Mouma Das (12th) Ayhika Mukherjee (14th), and Ankita Das (16th) to qualify for the main draw.

“To have one in top 100 is great sign for Indian women paddlers. It sets an example. All tournaments are a test, and I expect all players to perform well in front of home crowd. It will also decide their selections for upcoming tournaments,” Constantini said.

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