Goa, Feb 27 (IANS) Three rounds of qualifying spread over two days will begin official proceedings of the first ever Stupa Sports Analytics hosted USD 2,50,000 World Table Tennis (WTT) Star Contender at Panjim’s Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor stadium from Monday.
In what will be a huge opportunity for the next generation of Indian Table Tennis, 15 Indian paddlers led by senior pro Harmeet Desai in men’s singles and 13, led by world number 84 Archana Kamath in the women’s singles, will look to grab one of the eight qualifying spots in each draw.
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As many as 17 Indian pairs across formats, will also look to book one of the four qualifying spots available in the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles respectively. The main draw begins from March 1 with four of the five finals slated for March 5.
Leading the lines for India in the men’s singles qualifiers will be the spectacled 22-year-old Manush Shah, who is currently ranked number 109 in the world. Manush began the year with a bang, winning the UTT National Ranking Championships in Vadodara in January. He had also won the Ecuador Open International title back in 2021.
Speaking ahead of the event, Manush said, “I am playing the men’s singles and also the men’s doubles and the mixed doubles. So yes, I am looking to qualify for stage two and go as far as possible in the tournament. We are really grateful that a Star Contender event is happening in India and we are all really looking forward to it.”
Also looking forward to the tournament is 16-year-old Pritha Vartikar, ranked 467 in the world and playing in her first WTT senior event.
According to her, “I am very excited to play this tournament, see good players in action. It will be a really good experience for the youth. I am looking forward to playing and want to make it to the main draw.”
Another 22-year-old from Gujarat is Manav Thakkar, the world number 127, who will also be in the fray in the qualifiers. Having had some success in the WTT Contender events with Harmeet Desai, Manav is grateful that a Star Contender level tournament is being hosted in India. He also shared his views a day before the qualifiers saying, “I have been preparing in Chennai for the last two weeks. They have gone very well. We are all pumped up and it looks like I am in good shape. I think it’s a very good opportunity for me and other youngsters as we can learn from the top players by seeing them live in action. I am sure I will be watching them, how they practice and how they prepare for the matches, or how much time they are taking for recovery, or what they do post-match or what happens if they win or lose. These are the very small things which we cannot see when we are watching online or on YouTube. So, I think these are the things which a youngster should observe and learn from.”
The likes of Manush, Pritha and Manav will be up against some tough opponents in the qualifiers, besides their own teammates like senior pros Harmeet Desai and Sanil Shetty among the men and Archana Kamath, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee among the women.
In the men’s draw for example, world number 73 Mizuki Oikawa of Japan and world number 95, Kang Dongsoo of Korea, are experienced campaigners besides the young and exciting 16-year-old Felix Lebrun of France, who gave Chinese legend Ma Long a fight last year in Budapest. Among the women, besides world number 72 Adina Diaconu of Romania and world number 85, Zhu Chengzhu of Hong Kong, China, another exciting French teenager this time of Indian descent, Prithika Pavade, will be tough nuts to crack.
A total of 200 players from 30 countries will be participating in the WTT Star Contender Goa 2023, which will include at least five top-20 players in both the men’s and women’s singles main draws.