Ahmedabad: India’s top-ranked table tennis player A Sharath Kamal will be looking to book a berth in the World Cup as he headlines the country’s Asian Cup campaign set to commence in Ahmedabad from Thursday.

Kamal will look for a top-two finish in the group stages of the tournament which will assure him a place in the world event set to be be held in Belgium next month.

The world No 47, though, faces a stiff challenge in his pursuit. On Thursday, when the draws were announced, Kamal found himself in Group C, which consists second seed and world No 7 Jun Mizutani of Japan, seventh seed Lin Gaoyun of China, who is ranked 32 in the world and world No 16 Lee Sangsu of Korea.

“Asian Cup is the tournament where the best (in the continent) play, it is very hard to win a match especially in my case where I am in the top 12 of the tournament. Nevertheless I have beaten these players. I am looking forward to these kind of top quality matches,” said Kamal after the draw.

Kamal has been in top form since returning from a long injury layoff in 2015. This year he won his seventh national title and will look to replicate the form against Korea’s Sangsu in his first match on Friday.

“Since the beginning of the year I have been playing very well. I won the Nationals after a long time. I played the semi-finals in Indian Open. In World Championships I entered the round of 32. This tournament (Asian Cup) is a milestone one. It is a ticket to the World Cup. If I enter the quarter-finals, I stand a very good chance. And playing at the World Cup could take me to the top 30 in the world. A lot of things depend on this tournament now. Mostly it depends on the first match [Friday morning],” said Kamal.

‘I am playing my best table tennis right now’

The 35-year-old felt he was in a better frame of mind since his return.

“I am playing my best table tennis right now. I was world no. 32 in 2015 but then I got injured. Post injury I am playing even better than what I was doing. My level of play is better and am quieter in my head. I am more relaxed now and know what has to be done. Age is just a number,” said Kamal.

His best finish at the tournament has been sixth during the 2015 Asian Championships in Jaipur. With the event taking place in Ahmedabad, Kamal is hoping for home support. “Yes of course, looking forward to home crowd support. Playing in India is always been nice. I have always performed well at home. I hope this time also I perform well,” said Kamal.

Other Indians in fray

The other Indians in contention are Harmeet Desai, who is playing due to the regional quota and drawn in group D. He has Thailand’s Padasak Tanviryavechakul, Iran’s Nima Alamian and Abdulaziz Al-Abbad from Saudi Arabia for company.

In the women’s section, India’s Manika Batra, who also got a slot due to the regional quota, faces a tough challenge in group D. She will cross swords with Thailand’s Sawettabut Suthasini, Qatari Aia Mohamed and Neda Shahsavari of Iran. She is ahead of them in World rankings and hence will fancy her chances of progressing to the next round.


Women’s draw
Group A: Zhu Yuling (CHN), Miu Hirano (JPN), Doo Hoi Kem (HKG), Yu Mengyu (SGP).
Group B: Liu Shiwen (CHN), Cheng I-Ching (TPE), Yang Haeun (KOR), Lee Ho Ching (HKG).
Group C: Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN), Feng Tianwei (SGP), Suh Hyowon (KOR), Chen Szu-Yu (TPE).
Group D: Suthasini Sawettabut (THA), Manika Batra (IND), Aia Mohamed (QAT), Neda Shahsavari (IRI).

Men’s draw
Group A: Fan Zhendong (CHN), Koki Niwa (JPN), Chen Chien-An (TPE), Ho Kwan Kit (HKG).
Group B: Wong Chun Ting (HKG), Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE), Jeong Sanguen (KOR), Noshad Alamiyan (IRI).
Group C: Jun Mizutani (JPN), Lee Sangsu (KOR), Lin Gaoyuan (CHN), A. Sharath Kamal (IND).
Group D: Harmeet Desai (IND), Padasak Tanviriyavechakul (THA), Nima Alamian (IRI), Abdulaziz Al-Abbad (KSA).

*Top two players from Group A to C qualify for the main draw.

*Third-placed players will join the winner of Group D to play a single play-off match to determine last two positions of second stage.