Table Tennis has started making headlines and is gaining popularity in cricket loving nation. At the 2018 Asian Games, India won two medals, a bronze each in in men’s team and mixed doubles events. In fact, India’s impressive outing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where they picked up a mind-boggling 8 medals – 3 gold, 2 silver, and 3 bronze, was telling of the future success of this outfit of paddlers. In fact in 2019 at Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship India won all 7 Gold Medals that were on offer to make a clean sweep for the first time in the history of Indian Table Tennis.
In Tokyo Olympics, India had four participants in table tennis – Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee.
While Sharath and Sathiyan competed in men’s singles, Manika and Sutirtha participated in women’s singles. Sharath and Manika also featured in the mixed doubles category, which made Olympics debut.
Sharath and Manika had secured their Olympic mixed doubles berth by beating the then world No. 8 (now No. 6) Korean pair of Jihee Jeon and Sangsu Lee at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha in March this year.
In singles, Olympic debutants G Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee topped the regional qualification group, while Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra made the Tokyo cut for being the highest-ranked second-placed players in qualifying.
Set for his fourth Olympics, Sharath said that his and Manika’s contrasting styles would be an advantage in the mixed event. Manika, played her second Olympics.
However, the preparation of Olympic bound team’s got hit by the second wave of Covid-19 Pandemic and all players preferred to work with their individual coaches which actually effected the team’s cause.
India’s expectation was on Mixed Doubles and nobody was actually thinking of singles event deeply.
However, as the Game started we saw the opposite happening as in mixed doubles India was out in first round, but we saw fantastic performance in singles event where our players had shocked a few top players.
Sharath Kamal/ Manika Batra lost 0-4 (8-11, 6-11, 5-11, 4-11) to World No. 1 Lin Yun Ju/Cheng I Ching (TPE) in 1st round of Mixed Doubles in Table Tennis.
Manika Batra started with a bang as she defeated Tin Tin Ho of Great Britain by 4-0 (11-8, 11-2, 11-5, 11-7) in first round. Before the Olympic, she told that she wants to defeat a player who is higher than her ranking. And she did that in second round. She knocked out 20th seed Ukrainian player in an evenly contested match 4-3 (4-11 4-11 11-7 12-10 8-11 11-5 11-7). She thus became the first table tennis player from India to reach 3rd Round. However, she lost to World No. 17 Sofia Polcanova 0-4 (7-11, 6-11, 10-12, 9-11) in 3rd round.
Sutirtha Mukherjee made a solid Olympic debut as she came back strongly to get past Sweden’s Linda Bergstroem in her opening match of women’s singles category by 4-3 (5-11, 11-9, 11-13, 9-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-5). However, she lost to higher ranked Fu Yu (WR 55) 0-4 (3-11, 3-11, 5-11, 5-11) in 2nd round.
Sathiyan Gnanasekaran lost in 2nd round against Siu Hang Lam despite having 3-1 lead, lost by 3-4 (7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-5, 9-11, 10-12, 6-11). Sathiyan had received 1st round Bye.
Sharath Kamal also started with a bang as he defeated Tiago Apolonia 4-2 (2-11, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9) in second round. He got bye in first round. He also became the first male player to reach third round in table tennis Olympic.
However, he faced Long Ma of China in third round who is defending champion also went on to win gold medal in this edition also, becoming the first male tennis player to win back to back gold medal.
Sarath lost to Ma by 1-4 (7-11, 11-8, 11-13, 4-11, 4-11) in third round. Had it been a different opponent, the way Sarath kamal played, the result could have gone to his way.
Overall it was an excellent show by Indian Paddlers in Tokyo Olympics. They have played out of their skin to produce some good wins which actually shocked their higher ranking opponents.