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Table Tennis

2023, Year in Table Tennis: The best and worst moments, revisited

In a sport where India's international achievements are scant, there was a something remarkble to savour for Indian paddlers. Sutirtha and Ayhika clinched India's maiden medal in doubles at Asian Games in 2023.

2023, Year in Table Tennis: The best and worst moments, revisited

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


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 31 Dec 2023 1:00 PM GMT

Indian table tennis had a roller coaster year in 2023.

The highlights of the year were the Mukherjee sisters of Naihati and their historic Asian Games feat, India's first medal at the continental showpiece, but not everything was rosy about the sport in India.

The men's team missed out on a bronze medal at the Hangzhou Games despite G Sathiyan putting up some remarkable performances in the initial rounds and Sharath Kamal showing his fighting spirit in the pre-quarterfinals against Kazakhstan.

Despite the missed chance, as India went down 0-3 against South Korea in the quarterfinals, the performances the boys put up were no less impressive.

Yet, it has to be said that the men's team could not survive the pressure of expectations. Prior to the Asian Games, Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai won the men’s team bronze medal at the Asian Table Tennis Championship 2023 in Pyeongchang. At the Asiad, they failed to live up to the tag of one of Asia's best.

The Indian women's team, on the other hand, lost in the pre-quarterfinals, with the country's best-known women's singles player Manika Batra losing both of her matches against Thailand.

Controversies did not spare the sport this year.

In the last couple of years, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) found itself engaged in a turf war with Batra over her allegations of being forced to fix a Tokyo Olympic qualifying match against Sutitha under the command of then-national coach Soumyadeep Roy. A spat between Batra and Roy became apparent at the Tokyo Olympics when the former refused to accept Roy's advice.

In the aftermath of this development, the Delhi High Court had suspended the TTFI's then-executive committee, and Roy was found guilty of match-fixing. The ministry then ordered the sports ministry to appoint a panel to run the federation. In the elections held in December 2022, Meghna Ahlawat was elected as the new president.

And this year, the federation left another player disappointed with an unreasonable decision.

When the Indian Asian Games squad was announced, the officials of the TTFI officials found themselves in a fix when the country's highest-ranked male player Harmeet was not given a go for the individual singles matches.

Harmeet, the world no. 75, questioned the TTFI's decision to exclude him as one of India’s two singles entries for the Asiad.

Harmeet, however, did not lose hope, he would prove his supreme command over the national arena with his classy display. At the National Table Tennis Championships earlier this month, he dethroned G. Sathiyan and regained the men’s singles title in Panchkula.

Despite failing to live up to the expectations in the women's team event, Manika managed to amend her reputation in the individual category at the Asiad when she defeated Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut by 4-2 in a thrilling match. By winning this match, Batra became the first-ever Indian singles player to reach the quarterfinals of the Asian Games in table tennis.

Overall, Indian paddlers' performances in the team events in 2023 have not really been spectacular, with the women's team finishing sixth at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Pyeongchang, South Korea, prior to the Asian Games.

Meanwhile, in another contentious decision, the TTFI had given Batra a last-minute entry into the National Championships in a show of the federation's submissive attitude in tackling Batra. It raised eyebrows as the paddler's request to contest the championships came after the closure of the entry date.

Light at the end of the tunnel

However, in a sport where India is considered a dark horse, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Sutirtha and Ayhika, the rising women's doubles pair, did the most stunning thing for Indian table tennis by clinching a maiden medal for the country in doubles at the showpiece in Hangzhou.

Sutirtha and Ayhika 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 in the quarterfinals.

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.

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 along with their feat at WTT Contender Tunis 2023.

The duo this year also became the first Indians to win a Contender title.

The year, meanwhile, marked Achanta Sharath Kamal's below-par display as his campaign in 2023 did not yield any noticeable results.

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