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Lagos brace up for WTT contender

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With the conclusion of the WTT Contender in South Africa, India, Thailand and Jordan, the city of Lagos is the next point of call for top table tennis players across the world.

Nigeria remains the last nation among the five countries hosting the tournament for the first time bracing up to stage the WTT Series events in the 2023 season calendar.

Listed among the five countries to be staging the WTT Series for the first, Durban in South Africa hosted the first event from January 10 to 15, Jordan staged it from February 6 to 12 in its capital Amman.

Goa in India joined as a WTT Series host with a Star Contender event from February 27 to March 5.

Bangkok became the first Thai city to host a WTT Series event from April 23 to 29, before attention turns to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Table Tennis Championship Finals due to be held in Durban from May 20 to 28.

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In June, it will be the turn of Lagos, one of the cities that have been synonymous with hosting major table tennis tournaments having staged several continental and world title championships in the last 10 years.

Already, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) has named Kweku Tandoh as the Event Director while WTT team from Singapore will also be part of the $75,000 prize money tournament taking place on June 12 to 18 at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium.

Apart from the prize money, players will be aiming for points for their Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification.

Apart from Tunis in Tunisia that had hosted two editions of the WTT Contender, Lagos will be the second African city to host WTT Series.  

WTT is the ITTF’s commercial arm launched in 2020, and the chair of its Board Liu Guoliang is excited with the new cities staging WTT events.

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“World Table Tennis’s future shines ever brighter in 2023, further demonstrating the global influence of this sport we love,” Liu said.

“I hope more cities around the world, especially those beyond the traditional powerhouses, will play host to WTT events, experience the charm of table tennis through that and ultimately attract more people to participate in the sport.

“This has always been our most fundamental goal.”

ITTF Group chief executive Steve Dainton is encouraged about the sport’s prospects for 2023.

“The first two years of World Table Tennis provided a learning experience, and more importantly a launchpad for the future growth that begins now,” he said.

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“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to recede, the calendar for World Table Tennis will continue to grow.

“Providing a worldwide, cutting-edge experience is the goal of World Table Tennis, and this year will show just how much we can deliver.”

The WTT Series features Contender and Star Contender events, Champions events for the best 32 men’s and women’s singles players and Grand Smashes, concluding with the end-of-season Cup Finals.

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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