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Veterans National TT C’ships: Maharashtra lead qualifiers’ chart, Gujarat just behind

SNS | Jaipur |

As many as 15 players from Maharashtra qualified in Men singles 40+ category today to enter the second stage, which is the main draw, that gets underway from Saturday in the 25th Veterans National Table Tennis Championships at the SMS Indoor Stadium here.

The Men 40+ draw, which will be of 64 players, also saw Gujarat having eight of its paddlers making the cut while Delhi was just behind them with six players in fray.

Karnataka followed with five players while the rest qualifiers came from West Bengal, IA & AD and Punjab (4 each), Uttar Pradesh, hosts Rajasthan, Reserve Bank of India and Telangana (3 each), two from IVC and one each from Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu to complete 64 qualifiers.

There are at least two hot contenders for the singles title in the category. They are Malay Kumar Thakkar from Gujarat, the winner at Chandigarh two years ago, and fresh entrant and team leader from West Bengal, Arup Basak.

Basak may not have hit the purple patch yet in the last three days. He was, however, instrumental in helping his state win the team trophy against IA&AD yesterday. Basak, despite his backhand working well, struggled as his blocks deluded him. It’s another matter the Team India coach managed to put it across his rivals in the team final, but singles can be a tricky affair. And who would know this better than the former national champion?

Malay, on the other hand, looked a bit out of form but would be emboldened by the fact that reigning champion Rajesh Ramanathan has skipped the Jaipur event to take care of Team India’s interests abroad. But this does not guarantee him or, for that matter, Arup a place in the final as both title favourites have to cross quite a few hurdles before thinking of the top-of-podium finish on Sunday.

This would mean all qualifiers play the knockout straightaway unlike the Men 50+ players, whose main draw will be of 128 players with a large spread of byes going the way of ranked players. In this section, 267 players were divided into 89 groups—three in each—and group toppers were essentially those who had occupied the first slot in groupings. This meant the 89 qualifiers have justified their position based on better ranking than the pretenders challenging them in their groups.

Southpaw Vivek Alwani of Maharashtra, who topped group 1, would have already set his eyes on the gold medal for a repeat performance. The winner in at Pune faced tough challenge from state-mate K.K. Roy, who has not entered this time. But Sunil Babras and Atmaram Gangarde, also from Maharashtra and topped their respective groups in 50+ would be itching to better their performance, if not challenge Alwani for the gold. The last two named finished with bronze medals during their campaign at Pune.

But for these two sections, straight knockout matches began in other categories and in between the doubles too got underway. With just three days to finish the individual events, including doubles and mixed doubles, the scheduling got stretched up to 10 p.m. on the fourth day. But the veterans are not complaining at all!