NEW DELHI: A modest field for the first ever $25,000 Indian Open table tennis championship gives the Commonwealth champion, A. Sharath Kamal, a reasonable chance of reaching the semifinals when the event takes place at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here from February 8 to 11.
Sharath, who is ranked 104 in the world, is India's best bet among the 12 host entries in the draw of 64.
With China deciding to stay away from this International Table Tennis Federation's Pro Tour event, Singapore's Gao Ning, 28th in the world, heads the field.
Singapore's Yang Zi (ranked 45th), Brazil's Thaigo Monteiro (94th) and Croatia's Roko Tosic (103rd) are the other seeds ahead of Sharath. The event has attracted participation from 13 countries besides the host.
Yin Wie, the 53-year-old Chinese coach who took a preparatory camp of the Indian players at Patiala from January 4 to 27, was hopeful of Sharath doing well.
"Sharath is clearly the best among the Indians and the only one capable of adjusting his game to suit the situation," said Yin Wie and continued, "I am particularly impressed by his flexibility and keenness to improve. He can get a lot better. Though I feel he still has to make some necessary technical adjustments to his forehand, I have no doubt that Sharath will give us some good reasons to be joyous in the future."
Yin Wie did not sound too optimistic about Soumyadeep Roy (ranked 230) and Subhajit Saha (323) but had encouraging words for youngster Sanil Shetty and Pathik Mehta.
"Among the youngsters, Sanil, Devesh Karia and Jubin Kumar have a good future. If we look at those a little older, Pathik was impressive in the camp. Since this was the first National camp I was in charge of, my first impression of Pathik was good. He showed the willingness to learn and the right attitude."
Yin Wie has been in the country since 1996 when he joined the PSPB Academy at Ajmer. Currently, he is associated with the SAI's Kolkata-based Centre of Excellence (CoE) and awaiting information on whether he should be around with the Indian team during the Indian Open.
In the ladies draw of 32, where half the field consists of Indians, the withdrawal of Singapore's Chinese imports Li Jia Wei and Wang Yue Gu, ranked fourth and eighth in the world, has taken the sheen away from the competition.
Singapore's Sun Bei Bei, ranked 34th, will now head the field. Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das, placed 226th and 236th on the world list, will be the top Indian players in the field.
Competitions will also be held in men's and women's doubles, besides the under-21 singles in both sections.