Veteran paddler A Sharath Kamal will be chasing a record-breaking ninth title when the national table tennis championships begin at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Cuttack on Friday.
The 36-year-old, who reached a career-high world ranking of 30 last month, is just a step away from surpassing Kamlesh Mehta’s eight national titles.
The only real challenge for him would be his India teammate G Sathiyan, who has been in terrific form and is just a spot behind Sharath at No 31 in the ITTF rankings.
Manika Batra will be the favourite to lift the women’s singles title. Ever since her performances at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games last year, her stock has risen and she also bagged the ITTF’s Breakthrough Star of the Year award last month.
Batra was on the verge of winning her second national crown during the previous edition in Ranchi, but allowed Sutirtha Mukherjee to recover and upstage her. The world No 51 would be keen to go the distance this time.
The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board has the strongest squad in the team events. Their men’s squad, comprising Sharath, Sathiyan, Anthony Amalraj, and young Manav Thakkar, has all the firepower it needs to win. The women’s team, led by Manika, young Archana Kamath, and veterans Madhurika Patkar and Mouma Das, is also strong.