ITTF-ATTF 30th Asian Cup: Positive Sharath confident of a WC berth

Achanta Sharath Kamal Table TennisAhmedabad: A thoroughbred that Achanta Sharath Kamal is, he was counting on the positives than the negatives soon after he was drawn in group C of ITTF-ATTF 30th Asian Cup on Thursday afternoon.

“Even if I finish second in my group, I am sure of making the semi-final cut,” said the ace paddler, who is seeded ninth here.

That was the confidence and character that spoke volumes of the Indian paddler who is currently ranked No. 47 in the world and on whom the entire country’s focus would for the next three days as one of the biggest continental events gets underway at the TransStadia from tomorrow.

Drawn in a group that has Japanese Jun Mizutani, the No. 2 seed, Korean Lee Sangsu and Chinese Lin Gaoyun, the seventh seed, one would have thought it is a tough ask for the Indian, particularly when he takes on the Korean in his opening match. Yes, Sharath has beaten him on a few occasions before and twice ran him close in recent times.

Understandably, Sharath was not thinking about that as much except admitting that the first match tomorrow would really set the tone for booking next month’s World Cup ticket in Belgium. He has dealt with the Gaoyuan, too, a few times before with an impressive track record. But he did admit in as many worlds that Japanese Mizutani would be a hard nut crack, simply because of the potent service weapons he possesses. “This guy is too good with his a variety of serves,” said Sharath.

However, he knows full well the pressure of playing in front of a crowd but he believes it is also his strength. He recalled the vociferous support he received at Jaipur in 2015. “I can hope to get a good support from the home crowd. I have shaped up well for the big event and have had good practice before coming here,” he said.

If Sharath manages to win his first game against the Korean, he has every chance of finishing the group behind the Japanese and that would, in effect, help the Indian avoid running into the Group A and Group B toppers in the quarter-finals.

The top-three finishers here will earn an automatic berth in the men’s world Cup to be held in October at Liege (Belgium), but more berths will be on offer depending on where the players finish in their ranking when the final list is compiled.

Coming to the other Indian on view, Harmeet Desai, who is turning out here on 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. But whoever qualifies from the group will run into the third finishing player from group A and C in a single play-off match that will determine the last two spots of quarter-finalists. They will join two quarter-finalists each from group A and C in the main draw.

As for No. 13 seed Manika Batra, the lone Indian woman gaining a slot through the regional quota, has her task cut out in group D. She has the Thai Suthasini, Qatari Aia Mohamed and Neda Shahsavari of Iran. In fact, all of them are far behind her in ranking and hence seeded behind her. This must give some hope to the former national champion, who is ranked 104 in the world. Manika did really well to win the national ranking title just the previous week at Dharwad and it has done a world of good to her confidene.

But nobody has done as well as Liu Shiwen, a four-time winner of Asian Cup. In addition, the Chinese top seed has won the Women’s World Cup as many times and that makes her favourite for the title. In fact, Liu has a great opportunity to surpass the record of Zhang Yining and qualify directly for the World Cup to be staged in Toronto later this year. The other contenders in fray here would only be fighting out for the remaining two spots.