Time for Indian TT stars to deliver
After being handed out easy draws, Indian paddlers are brimming with confidence ahead of the table tennis team event of the Commonwealth Games starting in New Delhi on Monday.
Olympian Achanta Sharath Kamal will spearhead the men's team, seeded second after Singapore, thanks to their good showing in international tournaments in the recent past.
The Indian women's side, meanwhile, has been seeded fourth in the ping pong event, which will be held at the picturesque Yamuna Sports Complex.
CWG-bound paddlers have got enough exposures during their preparations for the quadrennial sporting extravaganza and the time to deliver has come. It's time to utilise the lessons learnt during training sessions and live upto the expectations of the countrymen.
In the last phase of preparations, the players had travelled to China, a powerhouse in the sport, for training and that should stand them in good stead when they meet quality opponents.
India clinched three medals, including two gold, in the Melbourne Games four years ago, and this time around they are determined to go one better.
Image: Achanta Sharath Kamal
'Our preparation has been good and we are in good shape'
However, with countries like Singapore and Malaysia in race for the top prize, the journey for Indian paddlers in the team event is not going to be a cakewalk.
"It will be a tough competition in the team event also, but we are confident of dishing out good performances. Our preparations are good and all the players are in good shape," Sharath, who is also holder of men's singles title, said.
The Indian men's team, which will also look to capitalize on the experiences of former national champion Subhajit Saha and Bengal paddler Sourav Chakraborty, have been clubbed with Guyana, Vanuatu and Dominica in Group B.
The women's team, winner of the bronze medal in the last edition, will have to fight it out against New Zealand but they are expected to dominate proceedings against the other two countries in Group D -- Sri Lanka and Ghana.
"It is an easy draw for our men's team and they should not face much trouble in the initial part of the competition.
In the women's section, it would be a good match against New Zealand, but other opponents should not give us much trouble," said Bhawani Mukherjee, chief coach at SAI and who is in charge of the Indian table tennis team.
It will be a similar same story for world number 41, Sharath when the Chennai lad participates in singles competition, a category he had dominated in the last edition.
Image: Achanta Sharath Kamal
'I am not thinking about medals'
Fresh from a special training session in Germany, Sharath, who has been seeded second in the men's singles, is confident of retaining the crown in the Delhi Games.
"I got some good practice there (in Germany). I am now in very good shape and confident of retaining the title. Some say only top seed Gao Ning of Singapore is going to be the toughest opponent. But I think, all the matches are going to be competitive," he said.
"I should not take any opponent lightly because all are good players," he added.
In women's singles, India's hope will rest on reigning national champion Poulomi Ghatak.
"I am not thinking about medals, my preparation is quite good and I just want to perform properly. Medals will come automatically," Ghatak said.
Image: Poulomi Ghatak
'Winning a medal at home will be a big achievement'
Besides the Kolkata girl, India will expect some good performances from two former national champions -- Kumaresan Shamini and Mouma Das. Mouma is Poulomi's doubles partner in women's singles.
In mixed doubles, Poulomi will share the table with fiance Soumyadeep Roy, and the couple has left no stone unturned in their quest to make the Games memorable by laying their hands on the yellow metal.
"I am playing mixed doubles with my husband-to-be and if we can win a medal here in front of the home crowd it would be a memorable achievement. He (Soumyadeep) is my mentor. He tells me what to do and what is the right way to practice. I also listen to him," Poulomi said.
A total of 21 medals, including seven gold medals, are up for grab in this discipline, which is being staged at the 4,297-seater stadium that has 20 tables, including eight match tables.
Image: Mouma Das