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Aruna, Assar to renew rivalry in Nairobi

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Quadri Aruna and Omar Assar will again take their rivalry to Nairobi, Kenya when the 2023 Africa Cup kicks off on May 4 to 6 at Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, Kenya.

Aruna who missed out from the title in 2022 after suffering a thigh injury in the final to concede the title to Assar at 4-3 will be hoping to reclaim the title following his recent form at international tournaments across the globe.

Aruna, presently ranked the 12th in the world, is the highest ranked African in the world while Assar is rated 33rd as the second best rated African.

Current African best ranked female Dina Meshref is at present in fine form following her display at the just concluded WTT Champions in China will be up against compatriot and defending champion Hana Goda who claimed her first continental title in Lagos last year.

Each participating country is expected to present two players each in men and women events while Egypt as the defending champions in men and women will nominate two players alongside the two champions.

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Kenya as host will present four players each in men and women events while Brian Mutua will lead the East African team against the visitors.

Already, the organisers of the tournament, Kenya Table Tennis Association (KTTA) has assured of a top class event having staged the same event in 2018.

The Africa Club Championships will precede the Africa Cup and both tournaments would serve as dress rehearsals for the first World Championships to be staged in Africa in 84 years, which is due to take place in Durban, South Africa from May 20 to 28.

President of KTTA Andrew Mudibo has no iota of doubt that Kenya is ready to host Africa.

“The preparation is on course and Kenya will be ready to host all delegations to the event.

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“Yes, Kenya has started to host major events again and this is in line with our development agenda in terms of developing the local talents we have. In the past Kenya hosted the ITTF World Cup and we have also hosted the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships and several African events,” the KTTA chief stated.

He continued: “For us in Kenya, every event that one participates in is always a unique event.

“Only the competitors and delegations will be able to give a testimony on the ups and downs of the event that Kenya is hosting once they arrive here. We believe that as usual, the event will be one of great experience and good memories, which all will talk about for many years. That is the uniqueness we hope to achieve.

“The Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani Indoor Gymnasium, which is the venue of the event, is ready. Set-up for the event will be done two days before the championships kick off. The rooms at Ibis Styles where the teams will put up are ready to receive each member of the delegation. 

“Kenya has put in place a fast-track visa process for all delegations coming for the event. The transport from the airport to the hotel and hotel to the venue is ready and we believe everything will run smoothly,” Mudibo assured.

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Mudibo added that teams should expect to see the rich culture of Kenya on display at the event. “We are considering having some Kenyan cultural dances at either the opening or closing ceremony. Definitely we shall have something,” he disclosed. 

Mudibo stressed that the Kenyan outing promised to be exciting. “As a sport table tennis is a festival we Africans celebrate each day.

“We shall showcase to the world that Africa has what it takes to hold world-class events and I am sure this will be the case with the World Championships later in the month of May which South Africa would host.

“Africa has come a long way in terms of competitiveness. Through such events, our players should be able to catch up with the rest of the World. If Africa can produce local, good players like Hana Goda of Egypt, then the future of table tennis is quite bright for Africa. This is just the tip of the iceberg to display our talent,” the KTTA boss said. 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Indian Sensation, Thakkar, Eyes WTT Contender Lagos Glory

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When Manav Thakkar competed at the 2023 edition of the WTT Contender Lagos, he never envisaged what would happen and despite his round of 16 exit, the tournament marked the beginning of his rise in the world rating.

Already listed for the 2024 edition of the first WTT Series in Sub-Saharan Africa, the 24-year-old is eagerly looking for another fortune to smile on him in the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, when the tournament serves off on June 19 to 23 at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium.

“As of today, I’m ranked 59 in the world but last year I was 140 before the 2023 WTT Contender Lagos and Lagos was the first event where I reached the last 16 after winning against higher-ranked players. Apart from my ranking, my level improved….so this year I’m also very hopeful that I will do well,” he said.

The former U-21 World No. 1 star described his maiden experience in Lagos as one of the best moments in his career particularly in terms of the massive support from the Lagos fans. “The experience compared to other tournaments was very good for me. I enjoyed the food in Lagos. There were many varieties and I also got a lot of support from the people when I was playing the matches. These were the major things that helped me to do well in the event last year.

“The unique thing about the event in Lagos is the food and the people. There is a bit of traffic in Lagos and there is also traffic in India as well, so I am used to it. People cheered every player during the matches and we players enjoyed playing it compared to other events and the food in terms of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I could remember that the hotel used to give us one special Indian dish every day and the people were very friendly and helpful in Lagos,” Thakkar added.

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For this year, Thakkar is optimistic about exceeding his 2023 round of 16 feat. “My expectation this year is to win a medal in singles and doubles as well as in mixed doubles. I am really excited and looking forward to playing at the event in Lagos,” the right-handed shakehand grip star said.

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Aruna returns to top 16, battles Croat at WTT Contender Zagreb

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Assar, Aruna, lead six other Africans to 2024 ITTF World Cups

Quadri Aruna continues his steady rise on the ITTF Ranking as the Nigerian gained one step up the ladder to occupy the 16th spot as the highest African ranked player in Week 23 of the 2024 ITTF Ranking released by the world table tennis ruling body on Tuesday, June 4.

Also, Aruna’s quest to garner more points ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in France has pitted him against home-boy Frane Kojic in the first round of the men’s singles at the 2024 WTT Contender Zagreb taking place in Serbia.

Aruna who started his rise in the ranking in Week 22 after his round of 16 finish at the Saudi Smash last month had his appeal accepted by the ITTF Executive Board for his World Table Tennis Championships points to be restored and this prompted his movement to 16th place in the latest ranking.

However, Aruna awaits formal confirmation from ITTF for his qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on June 11 when the world ranking will be used to determine the final list of players who will join the flight to France’s most populous city, Paris next month.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Alvaro Robles has become the biggest mover in the ITTF Ranking as the Spaniard achieved another career-high ranking. It has been over six years since Robles has scored a career-high ranking as the Spaniard kicked off 2018 sitting at No.37 in the world and had never been as high since. But with the latest rating, Robles jumped 15 places up the ladder to No.32, shaving five places off his previous record.

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This is a phenomenal testament to the stalwart’s commitment to the sport and also to his recent form as the 33-year-old has been to the final of two WTT events in 2024, including last week’s WTT Contender Mendoza. Although he lost out on the title in a thrilling seven-game duel with Benedikt Duda of Germany, the new career-high ranking will add further fuel to Robles’ fire to go even higher.

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Commonwealth champion Achanta leads Indian contingent to 2024 WTT Contender Lagos

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2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games champion Sharath Achanta will lead a strong Indian contingent to the 2024 WTT Contender Lagos taking place at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium.

The 41-year-old is the first Indian table tennis player ever to become a 10-time Indian national champion hence breaking the record of eight-time national champion Kamlesh Mehta.

Considered one of the most flamboyant Indian athletes, Achanta is eagerly looking forward to the tournament as part of their preparation for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The highest-ranked Indian male player in the world rated 40th was in 2019 awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award while in 2022, he was awarded the Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour will be joined on the Lagos trip by 2023 WTT Contender Lagos semifinalist Harmeet Desai as well as Manav Thakkar and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in the men’s singles.

The women’s squad will be spearheaded by long-pimple Manika Batra, the top female table tennis player in India and ranked 24 in the world and she will also have her compatriot,

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Sreeja Akula is also an integral member of the Indian team that qualified for the Olympic games at the 2024 World Team Championships in Busan, South Korea. Akula, who is a familiar face in Lagos will have compatriots like Yashaswini Ghorpade, Archana Kamath, and Sutirtha Mukherjee heading to the commercial nerve centre for a podium finish.

It is all about the title defence for South Korean Shin Yubin, having topped the podium in 2023, Yubin spearheads the lineup in this year’s edition.
Lagos was one of two WTT Series wins for World No. 7 in 2023, and with her 2024 account currently empty, history repeating in Nigeria will be just what the Korean is yearning for but India’s Batra could pose the biggest threat to Yubin’s title defence in Lagos.
like Batra, Akula is in red-hot form, already claiming two WTT Feeder Series events this year, and the chance to make a rapid graduation and claim a WTT Series title will not be squandered by World No. 41 as she looks to continue her rise in the global ladder.
Lagos offers a rich cultural scene, with opportunities to explore the National Museum, visit the iconic Eko Atlantic City, and enjoy the lively nightlife of Victoria Island. For outdoor enthusiasts, the nearby beaches of Tarkwa Bay Beach and Lekki Conservation Centre provide a relaxing escape from the city’s bustle.
Indulge in the local cuisine, a flavourful fusion of African and international influences, and soak up the rhythm and energy of the Lagos community.
WTT Contender Lagos 2024 offers up a total prize pool of $80,000 as well as 400 ITTF Table Tennis World Ranking Points for the champions.

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