The Indian paddlers tasted Olympic success in the sport for the first time in 29 years at the ongoing Olympic Games.
The Indian table tennis players were not amongst the medal hopefuls before the commencement of the Tokyo Olympics. Infact, they were hoping to break new ground by starting their campaign with wins. This is due to the fact that the Indian paddlers haven’t fared well at the quadrennial event in the past.
Several Indian table tennis stars have come and gone. From Mantu Ghosh and Soumyajit Ghosh to Mouma Das and Poulomi Ghatak, these are some of India’s legendary table tennis players that the country has ever produced. Siliguri in West Bengal is considered a “nursery” of table tennis players in India, after several paddlers from the city have gone on to become national champions and Olympians. However, performances at the Olympic level have always been disappointing. Time and again, the Indian paddlers have fallen short of expectations at the quadrennial event.
However, much has changed in recent years and the Indians are now finally making their mark on the grandest stage.
Ultimate Table Tennis revolution
Domestic franchise-based tournaments have boosted the growth of several sports in India. However, the Indian table tennis stars could only dream of something like that. It all changed in the year 2017. Vita Dani, Chennaiyin FC co-owner and a table tennis enthusiast, was at the forefront of it. She always believed that India had enough talents in the sport, but they didn’t have a proper platform to showcase their abilities.
Under the aegis of the Table Tennis Federation of India, Dani launched Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT). The UTT was a franchise-based league that started with six teams. Several household Indian names, as well as marquee foreign signings, were in action with the league becoming an instant success. It proved to be a major boost for Indian table tennis.
Several youngsters got a proper platform to showcase their talent, one which they had been craving for years. The league also enabled the young Indian table tennis players to share the same dressing room with several experienced overseas stars, which helped them to further develop their game. However, the league had its fair share of problems. After the 2018 season, the inaugural champions Falcons TTC was dissolved.
Several members of the current crop such as Sutirtha Mukherjee and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran developed their game in the UTT. There’s no doubt the league has had a positive impact on the sport in the country. The Ultimate Table Tennis has sowed the seeds for Indian table tennis resurgence and the Indian paddlers are reaping rewards because of it in Tokyo.
Commonwealth Games 2018 – signs of progress
The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast proved to be a historic tournament for India. The country topped the medal charts with a total of eight medals. Three gold medals, two silver and three bronze medals were picked up. Infact, in each of the seven categories, India achieved at least one podium finish. Owing to this, the Indians finished ahead of table tennis powerhouses such as Singapore and England.
Manika Batra caused a stir, by clinching the women’s singles title. Further gold medals were picked up in the men’s and women’s team events. On top of that, there were silver medal finishes in the men’s and women’s doubles categories. Add to that, bronze medals for Sharath Kamal in the men’s singles and in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles events.
The tournament turned out to be a massive morale-booster for India. Table tennis was a sport in which India had been struggling at international tournaments. However, it all changed with the 2018 Commonwealth Games. In the same year, Indian table tennis players also won two medals at the Asian Games. All of a sudden there was a spring in the steps of the Indian players. Now, they had the belief that they can go onto achieve greater things in the future.
ALSO READ: Top five Achievements of Manika Batra
Tokyo 2020 – an eye-catching beginning
Four Indian paddlers qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. There was a mix of youth and experience amongst the travelling Indian contingent. The ever-present pair of Manika Batra and Sharath Kamal is amongst them. Whereas, there are two debutants in the fray. Sutirtha Mukherjee and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran are appearing at their maiden Olympic Games. All four players are appearing in the singles category. Batra and Kamal were also competing in the mixed doubles category.
There was a confident mood amongst the Indian contingent before they travelled to Tokyo. Veteran star Sharath Kamal in particular had spoken highly about their chances. But, most people had written them off, mainly due to the fact that they were handed a tough draw in the early stages.
Manika Batra has displayed all her experience in Tokyo thus far. She defeated Great Britain’s Tin-Tin Ho to start her campaign. In doing so, she became the first-ever Indian since the 1992 Barcelona Games, to win a table tennis match at the Olympics. The last Indian player to register a victory at the quadrennial event was Niyati Roy Shah, when she had defeated Cuba’s Marisel Ramirez.
It was a magnificent achievement in itself. However, she wasn’t finished there. Batra stunned World No. 32 Margaryta Pesotska in her next match to reach the women’s singles third round. The World No. 62 made a remarkable comeback against her Ukrainian opponent, after losing the first two games to prevail 4-11, 4-11, 11-7, 12-10, 8-11, 11-5, 11-7.
Sutirtha Mukherjee has also been in good touch in Tokyo. She showed a great exhibition to take out Sweden’s higher-positioned Linda Bergstroem in a seven-game spine-chiller, winning, 11-5, 9-11, 13-11, 11-9, 3-11, 9-11, 5-11. The 25-year-old was nerveless in her encounter. Mukherjee will take on Chinese-born Portuguese Fu Yu in the second round.
ALSO READ: Top five Achievements of Sharath Kamal
More to come from Indian paddlers?
However, all great campaigns have their fair share of ups and downs. Sathiyan Gnanasekran suffered a surprise loss in his opening match. Whereas, the mixed doubles pair of Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra also bowed out. Kamal is slated to begin his singles campaign versus Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia on Monday. It will be a familiar opponent for the Indian. The 39-year-old had shared the dressing room with Apolonia, when both of them were on the books of RP-SG Mavericks in the inaugural season of UTT.
It is safe to conclude that the Tokyo Olympics 2020 has been a good campaign for the Indian paddlers so far. However, there might be more to come from them. It has all the makings to be the golden period in Indian table tennis history.