This was the nation’s best-ever performance in the competition.

The 2021 Asian table tennis championship was held at the Lusail Sports Arena in Qatar. The Indian paddlers will return home having recorded their best-ever campaign in the continental competition. The nation won a medal for the first time in the tournament. In fact, they will come home having won three medals in total, all of them being bronze.

The Indian table tennis contingent had travelled to Qatar on the back of their best-ever campaign at the Tokyo Olympics. They continued the momentum despite the absence of one of the country’s biggest stars, Manika Batra. Several of them produced brilliant performances in various categories, earning plaudits from fans and pundits alike.

Here are the best Indian performers at the Asian table tennis championship 2021.

5. Sutirtha Mukherjee

In the absence of Manika Batra, the biggest name among Indian women paddlers was Sutirtha Mukherjee. She showed flashes of brilliance in all the events that she took part in. Sutirtha was the driving force behind the Indian women’s team’s comprehensive victories over Jordan and Nepal in the group stage. In the quarter-finals against Japan, she defeated Miyu Nagasaki in a stunning manner that went all the way. However, her compatriots failed to deliver, resulting in the Indian team being knocked out.

The women’s doubles event saw her pair up with Ayhika Mukherjee. A comfortable 3-0 victory was picked up in the Round of 32 against Kazakh duo Anastassiya Lavrova and Anel Bakhyt. In the Round of 16, she and Ayhika beat Chinese Taipei’s Chen Szu-Yu and Li Yu-Jhun by a score of 3-1. The Indian duo faced Miyu Nagasaki and Ando Minami of Japan in the quarterfinal, where they were beaten 3-2.

Sutirtha also showed her class in the women’s singles event. She started her campaign with a routine 3-0 victory over Qatar’s Ali Maha. Another 3-0 defeat was handed out to Mongolia’s Bolor-Erdene Batmunkh in the Round of 64. However, Ando Minami was once again Sutirtha’s Achilles heel, as she lost to the Japanese star 3-1 in the Round of 32. Overall, the 25-year-old had a progressive tournament after catching the eye with her performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

4. Harmeet Desai

The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist came into this tournament following his failure to secure a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. He was part of the Indian men’s team which won a bronze medal at the Asian table tennis championship. After partnering up with Sreeja Akula in the mixed doubles, they beat Ramhimlian Bawm and Sadia Rahman Mou of Bangladesh 3-0 in the first match. The Round of 32 was a tough test and despite their best efforts, they lost 3-1 against Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong.

Desai won two medals in the tournament (courtesy-ITTF)

In the men’s singles, the 28-year-old took on Ahmed Alawlaqi of Qatar in his first match. The Indian paddler comfortably won 3-0 to progress. However, a 3-1 loss at the hands of Iranian Nima Alamian brought his singles campaign to a halt. The men’s doubles category was where he showed his true mettle.

Harmeet’s partner was Manav Vikash Thakkar in this event. Having received a first-round bye, they disposed of Singapore’s Rafanael Nikola Niman and Fikri Faqih Fadilah 3-0 in the Round of 32. A similar scoreline victory over strong Saudi Arabian opponents Naif Al-Jadai and Abdulaziz Al-Abbad further underlined their ambitions.

Harmeet gained a degree of revenge for his singles defeat by beating Iran’s Nima Alamian and Noshad Alamiyan 3-0 in the quarters. Despite a defeat against South Koreans Jang Woo-jin and Lim Jong-hoon in the semi-finals, Harmeet managed to clinch a bronze medal in the men’s doubles.

3. Manav Vikash Thakkar

The 21-year-old is one of the brightest youngsters in Indian table tennis. Manav Vikash Thakkar defied his age several times in the tournament displaying maturity on the table against much more experienced opponents. The biggest example of that will be the men’s doubles semi-final against a much-superior South Korea.

At the beginning of the contest, it looked like Manav and Harmeet would be knocked out quite easily, after comprehensively losing the first two games. But, they completely changed the scenario in the third and fourth games. They showed immense grit and determination to secure wins in those closely fought games.

Taking the match to a decider itself was a great feat against the heavily-fancied Korean duo. Once again the Indians gave it their all but fell just short. Harmeet and Manav bowed out after a 4-11, 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 8-11 defeat. The titanic battle lasted for 44 minutes. The performance shows that having already confirmed a bronze medal they were hungry for more and were not afraid to go toe-to-toe against the Koreans.

Manav’s performances in the mixed doubles events were equally impressive. Partnering Archana Girish Kamath, they received a first-round bye. A Round of 32 victory was picked up over Ser-Od Gankhuyag and Undram Munkhbag of Mongolia. Another classy performance came in the 3-2 Round of 16 win over Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko and Anastassiya Lavrova. Once again Manav came close to reaching the semis but exited the mixed doubles with a 3-1 defeat to Ho Kwan Kit and Lee Ho Ching of Hong Kong.

In addition, the young Indian paddler had also beaten Qatar’s Fahed Almughanne and Mohamed Shaffan of the Maldives in the men’s singles. Manav Vikash Thakkar certainly has a bright future ahead of him and is a prized asset in Indian table tennis right now.

2. Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

Asian table tennis championship table tennis
Sharath and Sathiyan formed a formidable partnership in the tournament (courtesy-Olympics)

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran had a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, having suffered a shock exit. However, he put the disappointment behind him by clinching the Czech Open title in September 2021. Sathiyan picked up two more medals in the men’s team and men’s doubles events in the Asian table tennis championship.

The 28-year-old partnering Sharath Kamal defeated Ahmed Alawlaqi and Fahed Almughanne in the Round of 32. The Round of 16 tie was a hard-fought 3-2 win over Kirill Gerassimenko and Alan Kurmangaliyev. The stunning run continued with a straight games victory against Singaporean pair Chew Zhe Yu Clarence and Beh Kun Ting. Despite a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Shunsuke Togami and Yukiya Uda of Japan, he will add a bronze medal to his collection.

In the men’s singles, Sathiyan saw off the challenge of Saudi Naif Al-Jadai and Qatari Ahmad Khalil Al-Mohannadi. A 3-1 defeat to Japan’s Kazuhiro Yoshimura ended his singles campaign. It is fair to say that Sathiyan Gnanasekaran had a good enough tournament but there is still room for improvement.

1. Sharath Kamal

Prior to the Asian table tennis championship, Sharath Kamal had stated that India has a great chance of finally ending the medal drought in the continental competition in 2021. The Indian paddlers did exactly that in Doha. Sharath was at the forefront of that success.

In the men’s team quarter-final against Iran, he had comfortably beaten Nima Alamian to put India in the driver’s seat. However, when Harmeet Desai lost the third match of the tie, it was easy for the Indian heads to drop. It is when Sharath Kamal decided to take matters into his own hands and step up to play his second match. He used all his experience to beat Noshad Alamiyan in a tough battle.

The singles matches saw the Indian ace beat Mohammadali Rouintanesfahani of Iran, Zokhiri Dzhalil of Tajikistan and Mohammed Abdulwahhab of Qatar to book his place in the quarter-finals. In all these matches, he didn’t drop a single game. A quarter-final loss to Lee Sang-su of South Korea ended his march. At 39, Sharath Kamal continues to hunt for even more success and winning his first career continental medals is a testament to that.

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