Success of Mukherjees: Ayhika-Sutirtha beating Chinese bright spot in TT at Asian Games 2023
Due to the enormity of the occasion, where the Indian athletes had to endure hostile surroundings every passing day, the achievement of Ayhika and Sutirtha will always be one worth remembering.
For the sheer depth in competition, the table tennis women's doubles bronze medal won by Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee will rank among India's biggest wins at the Asian Games 2023.
The Mukherjees of Naihati - Ayhika and Sutirtha - not only scripted history by becoming the first Indian women's doubles pair to win a medal at the Asian Games but also added weight to it by taking down the reigning world champions - Cheng Meng and Yidi Wang of China - in front of a boisterous Chinese crowd.
Table tennis, the most popular sport in China, given its popularity and umpteen number of players playing the sport at the grassroots level, enjoys a proud place in the vast nation. Thus, when Ayhika and Sutirtha won the quarterfinal match against Meng and Wang 11-5, 11-5, 5-11, 11-9, the Chinese fans considered it a direct slap in their face.
Though Ayhika-Sutirtha could not advance to the final, their bronze medal was worth the weight of gold because of the sheer determination they showed to beat a higher-ranked Chinese pair in front of a buzzing crowd.
It was India's third table tennis medal in the history of the Asian Games.
This was the only bright spot in table tennis as the ten-member Indian squad failed miserably in every other discipline.
India's men's team fought their way into the quarterfinal after beating Singapore and Kazakhstan but kowtowed to South Korea 3-0.
Up against a tough opponent, only G Sathiyan could put up a fight but it was not enough to overcome Park Ganghyeon. Harmeet Desai and Achanta Sharath Kamal too lost their matches.
The women's team went down fighting in the pre-quarterfinal against Thailand.
Like in women's doubles, Sutirtha and Ayhika contributed to the team considerably, by winning their singles matches against Thailand. But Manika Batra, India's top women's singles player, lost both the opener and decider of the match.
In women's singles, Manika Batra, however, created history by advancing to the quarterfinals as the first Indian singles player. But her campaign did not progress beyond quarters.
In men's doubles, Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan crashed out of pre-quarterfinals. Sreeja Akula and Diya Chitale, in women's doubles, too, suffered a defeat in their Round of 16 match.
The young men's doubles pair of Manav Thakkar and Manush Shah, however, displayed determination, skills and temperament by forcing the top-seeded Korean duo of Woojin Jang and Jonghoon to work hard for points. The Indian pair narrowly missed out on a historic victory.
It was also the curtain for Achanta Sharath Kamal as the veteran player could not stay up in the fight against agile and younger players at the Asiad.
The only glimpse of Sharath Kamal's fightback came against Aidos Kenzhigulov of Kazakhstan in India's pre-quarterfinal. When the fixture was tied at 2-2, Sharath Kamal, playing the reverse singles match against Aidos, made a remarkable comeback after losing the first two games and secured a 5-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 victory in the decisive rubber.
Above all, due to the enormity of the occasion, where the Indian athletes had to endure hostile surroundings every passing day, the achievement of Ayhika and Sutirtha will always be one worth remembering.