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"Winning against Manika was special": Sutirtha Mukherjee emerges as star of National Games

On a road to redemption after securing 3 golds at the National Games and silencing all nay-sayers with a solid win over Manika Batra, Bengal's Sutirtha Mukherjee restates her dominance nationally again.

Sutirtha Mukherjee in action during her womens singles final at the National Games

Sutirtha Mukherjee in action during her women's singles final at the National Games


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 25 Sep 2022 7:27 AM GMT

The past twelve months have been a difficult haze for two-time senior National Champion Sutirtha Mukherjee, being in the eye of a glaring controversy that rattled Indian table tennis to the core - leaving Mukherjee's confidence considerably shaken.

But at the 36th National Games in Gujarat, the Tokyo Olympian paddler has managed to silence all her nay-sayers and emerged a star by clinching the title across - women's singles, women's doubles and the women's team events, powering West Bengal to emerge as the overall champions of table tennis at the Games.

"The last year was difficult for me. I needed this kind of a win and winning three gold medals and doing the team proud at my very first National Games has done wonders to my confidence," a cheerful Sutirtha told The Bridge, the morning after her heroics at her maiden Games.

"Looking back, my singles semi-final against Manika (Batra) was the most difficult one. And to be able to win that feels really special," Sutirtha mentioned, clearly relieved with that piece of win mentally, given how the past year had attracted match-fixing controversies surrounding her and the then-National Coach, Soumyadeep Roy.

Up against top-seeded Manika Batra from Delhi, Sutirtha was relentless in her blocking and attacking game, resulting in a tense win, 11-6, 11-8, 10-12, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6 that knocked the star Indian paddler out of the gold medal race.

"There were a lot of good rallies in that match and some great points, I was very happy with that win," she said, having shown great consistency and precision with her form in the last five days, playing back-to-back matches sans faltering too much.

Continuing that momentum, Sutirtha went up against reigning National Champion - Sreeja Akula from Telangana in the finals and once again, proved to be too strong against the gold medallist from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

"It's always a 50-50 match against Sreeja, she is a good player and it was quite difficult, but I'm happy I could eventually win," Sutirtha said, having won the gold medal fight, 11-8, 11-7, 11-8, 12-14, 11-9.

Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee won the women's doubles gold at the National Games

In the women's doubles, Sutirtha paired with Ayhika Mukherjee and racked up another solid performance and won gold against Karnataka's V. Kushi and Yashaswini Ghorpade.

"Ayhika and I were eager to play the singles final against each other too, we were in great form! That would have been ideal," Sutirtha exclaimed with a chuckle.

"But Ayhika got injured and couldn't go forward in singles," she revealed, both shining for Team Bengal in their run to emerge as the champions of table tennis at this edition of the National Games.

No new expectations after golden shower

Although Sutirtha finished the 36th National Games with three golds and displayed fantastic form throughout, downing the country's current top players - she has no tournament to look forward to right now.

"I wasn't included in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games squad and neither am I in the team for the upcoming World Table Tennis Team Championships in Chengdu," the former CWG gold medallist stated, who defeated at least three of the five members of the squad headed for the Worlds at the National Games.

"So for now, I have no such expectations from anyone. I'll head home and see what's next. Other than that, I'm not really hoping or expecting something after this result," Sutirtha said, stoic about not nurturing any new hopes in getting included in the squad soon post this performance.

The World Table Tennis Team Championships - which is the next-big thing on the global table tennis calendar will be instead seeing Manika Batra & Co. leading the pack, with the women's team kept same as the Birmingham squad, save for the addition of Swastika Ghosh to the team.

For Sutirtha however, the goal is simple.

"My performance at the National Games has made me really happy. I have regained my confidence with these wins and that's what matters the most, at this stage. We will see what happens later," she resolved, before signing off.

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