Following the suit of the Indian men’s team, the women’s table tennis team also put up a valiant display at the ongoing World Olympic Qualifying tournaments in Portugal, where they are just one win away from qualifying for Tokyo Olympics. Both teams now advance to the round of 16.
The women’s team pulled off a magnificent comeback against higher-ranked Sweden to win 3-2 and seal a berth in the next round in which they face Romania. In the women’s round of 32 match, India started with a loss as Ayhika Mukherjee and Archana Kamath lost to Matilda Ekholm and Christina Kallberg 7-11, 10-12, 15-17.
However, it was Manika Batra, who kept India’s hopes alive. She won her singles match against Linda Bergstrom in four games 11-4, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7 to tie the match 1-1. In the next singles match, Mukherjee failed to beat Ekholm losing 1-3 but, Batra kept on delivering success. She registered a 10-12, 11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 11-7 win over Kallberg.
With the match tied 2-2, India needed Kamath to win the decider against Bergstrom. She managed to beat Bergstrom 11-8, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11, saving two match points.
Batra’s terrific form and Kamath’s comeback helped India move closer to qualifying for the Tokyo Games.
Pitted against the lowly ranked Luxembourg team, Indian men’s team, seeded fifth, were favourites to win the tie and the paddlers did not disappoint. First up, Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai set the ball rolling with a comfortable win in the opening doubles rubber. The duo did not have to break much sweat as they beat Michely Gilles and Eric Glod 11-9, 16-14, 11-6 to give India the lead.
Then, Sathiyan was up against World No. 211 Luka Mladenovic. Although he was expected to win with ease, the World No. 30 got off to a poor start and lost the opening two games. But then Sathiyan recovered just in time, upped the ante and started showing his array of skills.
Sharath Kamal returned to action for the third rubber where he faced Luxembourg’s top-ranked paddler Glod. But the 37-year-old pro made short work of his opponent, at least in the first two games. Glod fought hard to take the third game but could not do any more damage as Sharath Kamal sealed the match 11-3, 11-3, 12-14, 11-5 to give India an unassailable lead of 3-0 in the tie.
The Indian men’s team will next take on the winners between Iran and Slovenia in the round of 16. If Sathiyan and Co. can win one more tie, they will book a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.