Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.

Asian Games

A spin on tradition: Mukherjee duo's journey to Asian Games glory

Ayhika's anti-spin blocks, Sutirtha's backhand winners - here is the journey of India's historic bronze medal in table tennis at the Asian Games.

A spin on tradition: Mukherjee duos journey to Asian Games glory

Ayhika and Sutirtha Mukherjee won India's maiden doubles medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.


Pritish Raj

Updated: 2 Oct 2023 7:09 PM GMT

It was a partisan Chinese crowd, world champions were their opponents and history was beckoning. But Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee absorbed the moment and basked in the glory, bursting into boundless joy when Wang Yidi failed to return Sutirtha's backhand smash.

An Indian women's doubles pair in table tennis just defeated the world no. 2 pair Cheng Meng and Wang Yidi in their own backyard in China to reach the semifinals of the 19th Asian Games.

It was a historic, magical, and unbelievable feat for Sutirtha and Ayhika - The Mukherjees from Naihati. They became the first Indian women's doubles pair to confirm a medal at the Asian Games by moving to the semifinals.

On a rapid rise since 2022, when they reached the WTT Contender final in Oman but failed to overcome the final hurdle. They eventually broke the deadlock by winning the Contender title in Tunis this year. It made Ayhika and Sutirtha confident and that resonated in their voice. During an interview with The Bridge before the Asiad, Sutirtha vowed to return home with a medal. "We would not settle for anything less than a medal," said Sutirtha.

And they kept that promise by winning a bronze medal.

When the Indian duo took the field on Monday in the semifinals against the North Korean duo of Suyong Cha and Sugyong Pak, the country believed in them.

Ayhika and Sutirtha fought valiantly, displaying great determination and courage till the very end before losing the deciding seventh game to settle for the bronze medal.

Mukherjees from Naihati

The Mukherjees have grown up together learning the nitty and gritty of table tennis at the Youth Association Club in Nahati under the guidance of their coach Mihir Ghosh.

The childhood friendship and bonding took some time to translate into success on the table. The paddlers paired up last year and started winning titles from the word go.

They won the women's doubles title at the 2022 National Games in Gujarat but were overlooked by the selectors for the World Table Tennis Championships.

Talking about their partnerships, Ayhika told us," We used to practice in different academies, miles apart. But fate had a different plan for us. The turning point occurred when we joined forces at the Dhanuka Dhunseri Soumyadeep Poulomi Table Tennis Academy."

When they started playing together, their playing style immediately started working in tandem.

"Our playing styles worked for us completely. Her backhand is powerful and my defence is tough to return. So, that tuning is something we found immediately," said Ayhika.

Their move to pair up, however, did not win any fans. Many people in the Indian table tennis circle even wondered what they would achieve with their contrasting styles of play.

"A lot of people told us how this will work between both of you. You have different rubbers and you have the game of blocking shots, this not going to work," Ayhika said.

But their trust in each other, and their belief in their skills proved the doubters wrong.

"We trust each other blindly on the table. We know each other's favourite shots, and that trust empowers us to play fearlessly," said Ayhika.

Despite the criticism and questions on their abilities, the duo started achieving success at the elite level by reaching the final of WTT Contender Muscat in 2022 and winning the Contender title in Tunis in 2023.

Ayhikha's Weapon of Choice: Mastering the Anti-Spin Rubber

During the match against the Chinese pair in the quarterfinals, Olympian Neha Aggarwal was going ballistic on the mic from the commentary box. "That is why your anti-spin rubber can be used. Coaches usually don't encourage it but Ayhika has displayed how to use it effectively," she exclaimed.

What Neha was talking about is a type of special rubber that is used on the racquet by Ayhika.

Ayikha's racket, equipped with anti-spin rubber, became a unique weapon, combining well with Sutirtha's attacking game. It bemused the opponents and left them scrambling to adjust to the unconventional spin.

This was a masterful move by the Indian pair as the anti-spin rubber complemented Ayhika's defensive gameplay where she blocked everything on the way to provide a way for the backhand winners from Sutirtha.

Talking about this, Ayhika said," I know my game is to defend and block so that the opponents can't return the ball. I have been playing with this rubber and it has helped me massively."

The anti-spin rubber, with its slick and non-grippy surface, neutralizes opponents' spin, making it a challenge for them to predict the trajectory of Ayikha's blocks.

While discussing their triumph, one cannot overlook Ayikha's masterful use of the anti-spin rubber, a strategic choice that played a pivotal role in their magnificent success at the Asian Games.

Her defensive prowess became unparalleled as she adeptly blocked, and returned shots with impeccable control. The anti-spin rubber, often not encouraged by the coaches for being a defensive tool, was one of the major factors behind the historic triumph of Ayhika and Sutirtha.

Next Story