Jaipur: A plethora of world-class table tennis players will serve a rare treat to the Indian fans when the 28th Asian Cup begins at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium here tomorrow.
Headlining the high quality men's field is two-time champion Xu Xin, who was ranked world number one as recent as last week before losing a place to Chinese compatriot Ma Long in the latest listings. Xin is one of the few modern players who uses the traditional penhold grip to good effect.
The other top-10 players lighting up the field are 18-year-old Chinese sensation Fan Zhendong, Japan's world no.5 Jun Mizutani and eighth-ranked Chuang Chih-Yuan.
The Indian interest will be created with the presence of world no.49 Sharath Kamal, 110th-ranked Soumyajit Ghosh and G Sathiyan, who finds a place in the premier continental event after a last minute pullout of 21st-ranked Chen Chien-An.
Sixteen players each fight it out in the men's and women's event and it is the first time that three Indian male paddlers are competing in the tournament introduced way back in 1983.
Veterans Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das will represent India in the women's event that has attracted participation from five top-10 players.
The highest-ranked player in the draw is two-time winner and world no.3 Liu Shiwen from China. And giving her tough competition will be compatriot Zhu Yuling, Feng Tianwei of Singapore, Ishikawa Kasumi of Japan and Seo Hyowon of South Korea.
Sixteen players in either section will be divided into groups of four. Another highlight of the tournament is the use of plastic balls over the traditional celluloid balls.
India's best bet in the competition remains Sharath, who was controversially dropped by the selectors after he missed the Senior Nationals for club commitments. Later he made the cut purely on his superior world ranking.
The 32-year-old had done well to finish sixth in the last edition in Wuhan and has trained specifically for the home event.
"You can match the power of the Asian players but it is tough to catch up with their speed. The speed with which they play makes them the best in the world. So I trained alongside Chinese players and coaches in Sweden, Denmark and Germany before arriving here," Sharath, who is based in Germany, told PTI.
Talking about Asian Cup, the Chennai-born player said that the tournament has gained significance over the years as it offers qualifying quota for the World Cup to be held later in the year. India is hosting the event after a decade.
"Five to ten years ago not the best players took part in the tournament. But now the situation has changed drastically and most of them play, mainly because it offers qualifying spots for World Cup. That is how I got to play in the World Cup," added Sharath.