Quite fittingly, the richest-ever Indian Open table tennis championship offering $100,000 has attracted the strongest-ever field.

On the flip side, this means the Indian players stand little chance of getting a big slice of the prize cake when the action begins in this ITTF Pro Tour event at the Yamuna Sports Complex here on Wednesday.

The five-day meet, particularly the ladies section, is set to be dominated by the Asians, including two women of Chinese-origin representing Poland and the Netherlands.

Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das, are the only two Indians to get a direct entry into the second stage in the singles, despite their modest ranking. All other Indians will have to go through a two-day qualifying phase to make the main draw that starts on Friday.

In all, 46 Indians are in the fray. One of the main reasons for the tough field in this edition is the cancellation of the China Open that has left the Indian Open as the only ranking tournament for the month. The event also doubles up as a ‘test event’ for the Commonwealth Games scheduled in October.

In the men’s singles field headed by Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, ranked 15th in the world, Sharath Kamal faces a qualifier in the first round. Should he advance, he runs into Ovtcharov’s doubles partner Patrick Baum, ranked 34th in the world.

Sharath, looking to regain his form, sounded realistic on the eve of the championship. “I’ve been consistently reaching the second round of the Pro Tour events. I think it is not bad considering that I play the qualifiers and then win against a seeded player. But my last two events, in Germany and the recent World Championship have been very disappointing. My ranking has slipped from 55 to 91 in the last couple of months. But during practice here in the past week, I am getting the ‘feel’ back. I hope to do well this week.”

Mouma has benefited from the rule that allows the host nation to have one of its players, irrespective of rankings, in the main draw. In a field headed by world number 10 Yu Mengyu (Singapore), should Mouma come out stronger against a qualifier in the first round, her second round rival is likely to be fourth-seed and World number 23 Li Qian.

Of Chinese-origin, Li Qian became a Polish citizen in November 2007 and went on to represent her adopted country in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

This event will also give the Indians a chance to test their preparations ahead of the Commonwealth Games. In the absence of England, Nigeria and Australia, the contenders from Singapore will be able to reinforce their reputation of being the strongest among the Commonwealth nations.

As seen in almost all the “test” events for the Commonwealth Games, the venue is still far from complete. Though the Indians have been practicing at the venue for the past week, the two “show courts” are not yet ready.

On Tuesday, the much-promised Wi-Fi connectivity and other office equipments were not in place and forced the referee Ganeshan Neelankanta Iyer to travel for over an hour from the venue to the Table Tennis Federation office to prepare the draw in time.

Logistically, most “test” events have been utter failures. The TTFI enjoys the reputation of being an able organiser. But in the coming week, the TTFI surely faces a stern test.

Keywords: Indian Open

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