Table Tennis: Great chance for India to have 4 singles players at Tokyo Olympics
The World Singles Qualification Tournament and Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament offer possibilities for Indian paddlers to make it to the Olympics
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics only a little over 4 months away, Olympic qualification tournaments are slowly picking up speed and the next few months are expected to be filled with them.
First up is Table Tennis. The World Singles Qualification Tournament begins in Doha on Mar 14, and it will be quickly followed by the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament on Mar 18.
World Singles Qualification Tournament (WSQT)
A total of 4 quotas in men's singles and 5 quotas in women's singles will be available at the WSQT. Countries that have not already qualified for the team event at Tokyo (an opportunity Indian teams missed last year in January) are eligible to send 2 athletes each.
India will be represented by Achanta Sharath Kamal (seeded 5) and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (seeded 7) on the men's side while Manika Batra (seeded 9) and Sutirtha Mukherjee (seeded 21) will be battling in the women's singles.
The tournament will follow a 2-stage knockout format.
For the men, the first stage consists of 3 separate knockout tournaments, the winners of each of which will qualify for Tokyo 2020. The 2nd stage will then take the losing finalists and the losing semi-finalists from all the 3 brackets and create a final bracket, with the winner clinching the last Tokyo spot available at the WSQT.
Similarly, for the women, the first stage will consist of 4 separate knockout tournaments, with the winners advancing to Tokyo. The final spot will be awarded to the winner of the 2nd stage knockout bracket, which will see only the losing finalists from the first stage fighting it out.
Sharath Kamal (WR 32) has been drawn in the same bracket as the top-seeded Liam Pitchford (WR 15) whereas Sathiyan (WR 37) might have to face challenges from 2nd seed Aruna Qadri (WR 21) and 4th seeded Vladimir Samsonov (WR 27).
Manika Batra (WR 63) has got the best draw she could have hoped for (given her seeding), with 4th seeded Xiaoxin Yang (WR 44) and 8th seeded Yana Noskova (WR 60) in her bracket while Sutirtha Mukherjee (WR 95) will face an up-hill battle with 5 players ranked higher than her in her bracket, including 3rd seed Suthasini Sawettabut (WR 40).
Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament (AOQT)
This is where things really start looking rosy for the Indian paddlers. As per the rules, 6 quotas are to be awarded through AOQT, but 1 quota has been reserved for each of the 5 different Asian regions – South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia.
So, Indian paddlers have to compete only with other South Asian countries for a quota. Basically, 4 separate tournaments will be contested – one each for the regions of South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and South East Asia – with the winners booking their Tokyo tickets. The West Asian qualification tournament was already conducted last year.
And as it turns out, in women's singles, only 2 entries have been received from South Asia, from Manika and Sutirtha!! Thus, India is already assured of 1 WS quota as it will go to one of these 2 ladies. And if one of them earns a quota at the WSQT itself, chances are she will pull out of the AOQT thus awarding the other with a quota by default!
Even on the men's side, there are only 3 entries from South Asia – Sharath, Sathiyan and Muhammad Rameez from Pakistan (WR 695). They are scheduled to play a single round-robin with the winner advancing to Tokyo (as long as the Indians don't qualify through WSQT itself and pull out).
In addition, there is a 6th quota available at the AOQT, which will be awarded to the highest-ranked runner-up amongst the 5 separate regional tournaments. The April 2021 Olympic Qualification Ranking Lists will be used for this purpose.
Currently, in the corresponding March Ranking Lists, Sharath and Sathiyan are both the highest-ranked players entered into the AOQT, whereas Manika and Sutirtha are the 2nd and 4th highest ranked players entered, with Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut and Orawan Paranang in 1st and 3rd spots respectively.
Thus, even if the Indians finish runners-up (which is guaranteed in the women's section as there are only 2 entries, while the men's section has 3 entries), they have a great chance to earn that final quota on the basis of their rankings.
Lastly, in case the Indians fail to qualify through both the WSQT and the AOQT, 8 spots are available (this number is likely to increase), for players not qualified through other means, in both the singles events through Olympic Qualification Rankings (substituting in for the World Rankings due to the pandemic).
At the moment, out of the eligible players, Sharath is ranked 5th, Sathiyan is ranked 7th, Manika is ranked 13th and Sutirtha is ranked 27th. However, it should also be noted that a total of 19 men's quotas and 18 women's quotas are to be awarded before these rankings come into play, and thus more players will become ineligible for ranking quotas as they win direct quotas.
So, in conclusion, Sharath, Sathiyan and Manika all have a relatively comfortable path to Tokyo, while Sutirtha also has a great chance of making the cut.
Mixed Doubles will also be contested at the AOQT with only 1 Tokyo 2020 quota on the line.
India have entered the pair of Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra (WR 18) who are the 2nd seeds, but they will have their task cut out against the top-seeded South Korean duo of Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee (WR 5).
India's other chance of making it to the Tokyo XD event is through the Olympic Qualification Rankings, where 5 or 6 spots will be available. Currently, India is 9th among the eligible pairs on these rankings, with only the South Koreans expected to become ineligible if they win the AOQT.
Thus, Sharath and Manika will need to either take down the Koreans at AOQT, or improve their rankings significantly through the other tour events (of which, there may not be many due to the pandemic).