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If one were to look back at 2018 and at the sports that stood out, table tennis would be quite high up on the list. From being one of the favourite pastimes of the general populace of the country to a serious sport that finally saw the country sit up and take notice of its players- to say that the sport has come a long way would be grossly understating it. Over the last couple of years, since the conception of the franchise-based Ultimate Table Tennis in India, it was turned into a spectator sport to reach a wider audience. Add to that the fact that our players started making a mark on the world circuit. Sathiyan Gnanasekaran won the Belgium Open in 2016 and 2017 and had decent runs at various other events throughout the calendar. Manika Batra on a similar note has had a fantastic 2017, where she had some performances in the World Tour events. But the biggest success story came at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Not only did the Indian team win a medal in each and every Table Tennis event in the tournament but the women's team also defeated the much higher ranked Singapore team with Manika Batra even defeating the then World ranked 4 players. Almost one year since the success at Gold Coast, the Indian team are ready to take on the upcoming season starting today at the Oman Challenge 2019. All eyes will be on the participating Indian team, many of whom have shown their mettle and have risen across the ranks defying expectations. Take Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, for example. His world ranking has seen a meteoric rise from 112-28 in the period spanning between March 2017 and March 2019. Sathiyan played a clinical role in both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. The Indian men’s team made history at the 2018 Asian Games after they walked away from the event with the Bronze medal. This was the country’s first ever medal in the sport at the Asian Games and it definitely changed a lot in the way the sport is perceived. The tournament was also a testament of Sathiyan’s ability to recover quickly in the face of adversity as he, having lost two previous ties, came back strong vs Japan in the quarterfinals and was instrumental in winning the medal. Speaking to The Bridge earlier this year, right after he became the highest-ranked Indian of all time achieving a ranking of 28, he credited his change in form to playing better, more unguarded table-tennis stemming from his exposure in playing in the German Bundesliga. “Small stints in Germany, playing with the top players, probably gave me an extra edge,” he adds. “Definitely, the more opponents you play against the better you get an idea of where you stand. Having a lot of match practice with them probably made me more capable when it came to handling pressure when it came to important matches and crucial points. Quick thinking and decision making is another thing that improved," he said. Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is the fourth-seeded player in the Oman Challenge. Indian veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal is seeded fifth in the main draw. For the first time, there are two Indians in the World Top 35 rankings and this is a major achievement in a sport hitherto thought to be dominated by the Chinese and their precise style of playing. Achanta Sharath Kamal has been the face of Indian table tennis for quite some time now and at 36, he shows no signs of letting go of the vigour that defines him as a player. When earlier asked what it was that kept him going, Sharath wrote in his piece in The Bridge, "I had to wait for a long time for my sport to come into the limelight. Now that it has, I intend on making the most out of it and sticking around for as long as I can." And it is this attitude that makes him a driving force. 2019, for him, began with a historic ninth National title after a gruelling match he won against Sathiyan. The momentum certainly has the potential to drive him. India’s Sharath Kamal and G. Sathiyan will aim to seal their berths for the World Cup when they compete at the ITTF-ATTU Asia Cup to be held in Yokohama, Japan from April 5 to 7 as they seeded 10th and 11th respectively. The field of 16, selected based on the January 2019 World rankings. With a little over a year left for the Olympics and India targeting qualification as a team for the first time ever, this year is all set to be quite crucial for Indian paddlers.