India at Olympics 2016: A record four-member Indian table tennis contingent aims to make the most of their time in Rio Olympics as they gear up for the men’s and women’s competitions with first round beginning at the Riocentro Pavillion 3 here on Saturday. World No. 73 Sharath Kamal, in his third Olympics, leads India’s campaign even though he is ranked lower than his younger teammate and World No. 68 Soumyajit Ghosh. Ghosh was the first one to qualify for the Games before Sharath too made the cut.
It is the first time that four Indian paddlers have qualified for the Summer Games. Veteran women’s player Mouma Das is here for her second Olympics with her maiden experience coming 12 years ago in Athens. Making her Olympic debut would be the rising star Manika Batra, ranked 127 ahead of Das (150). With the medal chances far-fetched, the paddlers would want to get a few morale boosting wins under their belt. Considering the latest rankings, the first round seems to be a tougher task for women than the men.
Das will open India’s campaign by taking on 58th-ranked Daniela Dodean Monteiro of Romania. Later in the day, Batra will have to produce something special to get the better of 60th-ranked Katarzyna Franc-Grzybowska of Poland. In the men’s event, Ghosh should be able to get past his Thai opponent Padasak Tanviriyavechakul, who is 181 in the latest rankings.
The Sweden-based Indian player is a lot wiser than he was four years ago in London, where he made his Olympics debut. His build up to the Games, however, has not been ideal as he missed out on crucial match time by refusing to play in a recent domestic event because the balls to be used in Rio were not used there. Sharath, on the other hand, is one of the most decorated players India has produced. He is back in action after a long injury lay-off and would be looking to give his best in what could be his third and last Olympics.
He returns to the Olympics after eight years as he failed to qualify for the London Games. China once again is favourite to win all four gold medals on offer, just like they did in the London and Beijing editions. Men’s top seed is Ma Long while Ding Ning has been given the top billing in women’s singles. The biggest threat to China is in the women’s event and it will come from second seed Feng Tianwei of Singapore.