Minus Manika Batra, can Indian table tennis players shine at Asian Table Tennis Championships?
With Sharath Kamal and G. Sathiyan leading from the front and China absent from the event, Indian paddlers will have a lot of opportunities.
After a lacklustre outing by the Indian table tennis players at the WTT Star Contender in Doha where chiefly, Archana Kamath and Sreeja Akula shined, Indian paddlers will set their sight on the biennial continental event - the 2021 Asian Table Tennis Championships that will also take place in the same city. Beginning on 28th September at the Lusail Multipurpose Hall, the Asian Championships will conclude on the 5th of October, 2021 and also act as the qualifiers for the World Team Championships in 2022.
Table tennis in India has been rife with controversies ever since the Tokyo Olympics concluded and Manika Batra got into muddy waters with the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and National coach, Soumyadeep Roy, against whom she has levied hefty allegations. Left out of the squad by the TTFI as the 2018 Commonwealth Championships gold medallist did not attend the National Camp in Sonepat, Manika Batra's absence from the Indian contingent can play a tricky role in the prestigious continental championships.
A controversy that started at the Tokyo Olympics has now reached the Delhi High Court.— The Bridge (@the_bridge_in) September 26, 2021
Confused with all that is happening in the #ManikaBatra vs TTFI saga? 🤔
🎥Here's an explainer!#TableTennis 🏓 pic.twitter.com/KpIwMxPYB8
Minus Manika Batra onboard, the Indian team is one star paddler short but will have the veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal (World No. 33) and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (World No. 38) to take charge of proceedings in the Doha event. The major boon for the Indian team this time will be the absence of China from the tournament as the formidable and dominating Chinese side has decided to skip the Asian Table Tennis Championships and rather, choose the 'mini-Olympics' or the China National Games, back home. With the Asian Championships and the National Games closely spaced, the Chinese team took the wise call to opt out of the Doha event and instead prepare for the World Championships.
The Indian men's team has a seasoned side up their alley with Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Manav Thakkar (No. 134), Harmeet Desai (No. 72) and Sanil Shetty (No. 247) present while the Men's Doubles will see Sharath Kamal/G. Sathiyan and Manav Thakkar/Harmeet Desai pairing up. After the brilliant run at the Tokyo Olympics where Sharath Kamal made it till the pre-quarters and clashed against the legendary Ma Long, the 39-year-old will be back in action in Doha.
BACK WITH A BANG💪😍— Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (@sathiyantt) August 25, 2021
Extremely happy to win the Men singles title at the 2021 ITTF Czech International open in a dominant way without dropping a set here at Olomouc✌️✌️
The wait was worth it to lift my 3rd international ITTF title after a gap of 4 years😁❤️💪 pic.twitter.com/aIAWCwzVlb
Sathiyan has been active and even played in the WTT Star Contender tournament but had no such luck. Thakkar and Desai also shared the same fate as that of Sathiyan there. All in all, without Chinese paddlers there to cause trouble, India should hope for a better showing and aspire for the deeper stages of the event and will have many opportunities to cause damage.
The Indian women's team will have Tokyo-returned World No. 95 player, Sutirtha Mukherjee to helm the side. Joining Sutirtha will be youngsters Ayhika Mukherjee, Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath. At the WTT Star Contender, both Sreeja and Archana were impressive. While Akula defeated World No. 21 Hyowon Suh from South Korea to sail into the pre-quarters where she eventually lost, Archana Kamath gained fantastic momentum and defeated Miyu Nagasaki in her pre-quarters and stormed into the quarter-finals. The 21-year-old met with the World No. 15 Doo Hoi Kem for a place in the semis and even got off to a good start before succumbing to a loss. Enjoying a good form, these youngsters should make up for Manika Batra and China's absence in the tournament and cash in on the opportunities.
The ATTU Asian Table Tennis Championships will see the Indian team participate in as many as seven categories of events - Men's Team, Men's Doubles, Men's Individual, Women's Team, Women's Doubles, Women's Individual and lastly, Mixed Doubles. China has won 128 gold medals in the event and Japan, is second on the list with just 14 golds, creating a glaring gap and showing why China is the real powerhouse of the sport. India has only won the bronze medal once, that too way back in 1976 when Manjit Singh Duo and Vilas Menon won the bronze in Men's Doubles. Since then, India has had no luck at medalling but hopefully, things will look better this time.
Indian table tennis is definitely on the rise and young paddlers have been taking gigantic steps and causing upsets that showcase the promise in their talent. Provided the draws are favourable, the team, even without Batra has the potential to click and shine in the key moments, given the momentum some of the players are currently enjoying.
Here's the full Indian squad for the 2021 Asian Table Tennis Championships:
Men's team: Manav Thakkar, Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty
Men's Doubles: Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan, Manav Thakkar, Harmeet Desai.
Women's team: Sutirtha Mukherjee, Sreeja Akula, Ayhika Mukherjee, Archana Kamath
Women's doubles: Archana Kamath, Sreeja Akula, Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee
Mixed doubles: Manav Thakkar, Archana Kamath, Harmeet Desai and Sreeja Akula