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Hallow seeds

Hyderabad, January 8: Achanta Sharath Kamal has been provided the top-seed men’s singles slot for the first time in two years since 2013. Just a year before, at the Raipur nationals, he was seeded No. 6 after he chose to skip national ranking tournaments the previous year. But he was restored to his position at Patna and in the next edition at Pudhucherry Sharath had given a skip to the nationals last year.

This No. 1 seeding generally goes the way of the top paddler in the country, purely based on the ranking points he or she has garnered through regular participation in national ranking championships. Sharath did not participate in any such championships in the past two years for various reasons-personal commitments with his German club and owing to intermittent injuries. However, he has been cautious of his world ranking and, as a regular participant in international circuit events, has kept it somewhat intact through decent performances.

Just before the hip injury he sustained during the world championships in China, the ace Indian paddler had touched the peak of his with the world ranking of 32 in May 2015. He was in a phenomenal form, having toppled two top-20 players in the world during that period and jumped 12 places. No other Indian had done that before, nor will any in the near future. That speaks volumes of the caliber the man possesses.

However, probably an error of judgment on his part-he hurried with his return to the Asian Championships at Pattaya-has cost him dear in recent times. Yet another injury just before the Commonwealth Games at Surat had prevented his participation. So much so, his world ranking has taken a beating and, according to the ITTF’s January list, he is placed at No. 67-by far the best ranked Indian!

These are reasons enough for the competition department of the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) to give him the top-seed position for the men’s singles main draw, which begins in the 77th Senior National and Inter-State Table Tennis Championships at the Kotla Vijay Bhaskara Reddy Indoor Stadium here tomorrow , Sharath has been accorded this benefit yet again for being the top-ranked Indian in the world at 67.

With 60 qualifiers making the grade and the competition department cutting down the main draw to 64 players for compactness, there will be a preliminary round of events from among the bottom eight group leaders. This means only 56 qualifiers out of 60 will be joining the top-eight seeds with no first-round byes offered to any seeds. The other seeds, apart from Sharth, that form part of the main draw are Anthony Amalraj, Soumyajit Ghosh, Harmeet Desai, Devesh Karia, G. Sathiyan, Sudhanshu Grover and Sanil Shetty.

There was no hiccup in the women’s singles draw as 52 players from as many groups joined Manika Batra, the top-seed, and other seeds in descending order, Mouma Das, K. Shamini, Divya Deshpande, Pooja Sahastrabudhe, Ankita Das, Madhurika Patkar and Nikhat Banu.

The women’s singles, too, will be a 64-player-draw event with only the top four higher-ranked players getting the benefit of first-round byes. These will, obviously, go to Manika, Mouma, Shamini and Divya while the rest will have to begin their first-round action later tonight .

Of the 52 qualifiers, the maximum happens to be from West Bengal with seven of their paddles qualifying while Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have five players each making the cut. Next is North Bengal with four players.

But reaping the benefit of being the hosts, Telangana had eight entries and six of them have qualified to join Nikhat Banu-she earned direct main draw inclusion because of her rankings. They are Varuni Jaiswal, Sreeja Akula, Naina, V. Laasya, Monika Manohar and Pra’nitha Garlapati.

Meanwhile, three of Delhi girls Neha Agarwal, Sanya Sehgal and Isha Monga have made the cut with the first named returning to action after quite some time as she went to the US to pursue higher studies.

Hallow seeds Hyderabad, January 8: Achanta Sharath Kamal has been provided the top-seed men’s singles slot for the first time in two years since 2013. Just a year before, at the Raipur