NAIROBI, Kenya- Top Kenyan seed, Martin Mutua and compatriot Sejal Thakker were eliminated on the first day as International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Africa Cup Top 16 Championships served off at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on Thursday.
The country’s hope, Mutua,19, and Thakkar, 42, exited the tournament after going down in their opening two men and women singles encounters and will now play for classification for the remainder of the continental showpiece.
Mutua was beaten 1-3 by Saheed Idowu of Congo before losing by a similar margin to Derik Nyoh Ofon of Cameroun in his second game to bow out.
Mutua’s encounter against Idowu could have gone either way. The Kenyan favourite took a 1-0 lead in the first set he won 11-7 in a rat-a-tat game that lasted The contest for only five minutes.
However, he failed to keep up with the good run in the second which was dominated by the Congolese.
Idowu overpowered Mutua with a fast tempo game that lasted four minutes to win 11-5 and level the tie.
Lack of concentration was Mutua’s main undoing in the third which he passed a great chance to nose ahead.
The third-year Physical Sciences student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology lost 3-11 to give Idowu a 2-1 lead.
Mutua’s performance dipped in the fourth and after brief resistance, the local top seed could not force a decisive fifth set with the Congolese taking it 6-11 to seal the match 1-3.
The second encounter pitting Mutua against Ofon was keenly contented affair that saw the all the games decided on tie breakers in what was a heartbreaking loss for the home player.
Mutua lost the first 12-14, before Ofon went 2-0 up by taking the second 15-13.
The nail-biting affair that had everyone on the edge of their seats saw the Kenyan rally to take set three 11-9, but the Cameroonian closed the contest he was stretched all the way through by winning the fourth by the same score.
Thakkar has lost her second women’s single match 1-3 (9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-3) to Christy Bristol of Seychelles having been brushed aside 0-3 by Sejal Algeria’s Katia Kessaci in her opener.
Despite falling at the first barrier, the Kenyan duo picked positives stating the competition would give them exposure ahead of Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, on April 4-15.
“We prepared well for the tournament. We knew it would not be easy but we are happy that we gained important skills ahead of Club Games,” Mutua said.
Mutua was in men’s Group B alongside Aruna Quadri of Nigeria, Idowu and Ofon. Thakkar was pooled in the women’s Group B against Oshonaike Olufunke of Nigeria, Kessaci Katia of Algeria and Christy Brustol of Seychelles.
“The players were very tough, some of them are world-class but we believe that we gave out our best.
“We will continue to strengthen our serves with our new coach before we depart for Commonwealth Games,” Thakkar underlined.
The 29th edition of the championships that ends on Saturday has 32 players (16 men and 16 women) drawn from across the continent taking part.
The high-profile event also serves as qualifiers for the prestigious ITTF World Cup to be held next year.
Among the array of stars taking part in the Nairobi event are world number 16, Omar Assar, from Egypt and world number 22, Aruna Quadri, of Nigeria as well as Olympian and Nigerian sensation Segun Toriola.