All eyes on Manika Batra in women's first TT nationals

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Panchkula, Feb 14 (PTI) Indian paddlers, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra, will return to action after a COVID-19 disrupted last season at the 82nd National Table Tennis Championships, starting here on Monday.

The marquee event will be a singles-only tournament and will be held in a bio-secure environment at the Tau Devi Lal Indoor Stadium here.

Sixteen, instead of the usual eight, women players will be seeded directly into the main draw. There will be no team championships or doubles events.

The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), enforcing strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), has limited entries to a bare minimum.

With just 12 tables in use throughout, it takes care of the safety paraphernalia -- 24 players in the fray with as many coaches for advice and the same number of officials to supervise the qualification matches.

On the eve of the championships, only the players with negative RT-PCR test results could gain entry into the hall for half an hour of practice each, including every morning on match days.

As for the entries, 161 women, including six wildcards, will set the ball rolling in the championships. The 145 players, minus the 16 seeds, have been drawn into 48 groups, each comprising three players. The last group, however, will have four paddlers.

The attraction of the women’s event will undoubtedly be Batra. The winner of double gold medals at the 2018 CWG and the Asian Games bronze medallist will be the top seed in the tournament despite not figuring among the top 16 Indians.

Manika skipped the entire season in 2019, save for the Institutional Championships that she went on to win.

The 25-year-old will have to dust off the rust because of inactivity last year and return to her best form.

The world no. 63 said she has been preparing for the championships in Pune with her coach and sparring partner from Belarus.

'I feel really in good shape and look forward to the Nationals,' Batra said.

Sutirtha Mukherjee, the reigning champion from Haryana, and her predecessor Archana Girish Kamath, who is turning out for Karnataka as a senior pro for the first time, will be in the race for the coveted title and the top prize of Rs. 1.65 lakh.

The event will provide them a chance to prepare for the crucial WTT Contenders in Doha, and the Tokyo Olympics qualification events soon after.

Former national champions K Shamini and Madhurika Patkar are also in the fray.

'We will use DHS DJ 40+ balls during the tournament, the same as during the Asian Qualification event in Doha and the Tokyo Olympics,' said competition manager N Ganeshan. PTI APA PDS PDS