Current national champion in both women's singles and doubles, table tennis star Sreeja Akula is ready to play multiple tournaments in coming months as her stock rises on the international circuit.
Talking to The Bridge on the sidelines of Ultimate Table Tennis, Sreeja said, "In the last two months, we have played around five to six tournaments and we will play more. After Ultimate Table Tennis, we have a tough schedule going to Rio and then coming back for the Asian Championships and the Asian Games."
Emphasizing the importance of focus, Sreeja said, "I am going to focus on one tournament at a time. Right now, my focus is to play UTT and do well for my team."
"Asian Championships will be important for us as it serves as the precursor of the Asian Games. It is tough to compete in Asia and I will hope to bring some medals home as I did in Commonwealth Games," she added further.
Impact of Ultimate Table Tennis
Table tennis is largely an individual game. A format like Ultimate Table Tennis where playing for a team is crucial throws a new challenge to the table tennis stars.
"It is an exciting format and test for all the players. Usually, we play tournaments alone and we are on our own while traveling. A tournament like UTT helps us to freshen up ourselves and spend time and learn from other players," said Sreeja.
With top-ranked foreigners like Benedikt Duda, Lily Zhang, and many others playing in UTT, Sreeja underlined the importance of playing around top professionals.
"We get to stay around them and pick their brains. We get to practice with them we get to know their schedules, how they work back there in their country. So it's very good, they share their experiences we also share ours and we get to learn a lot," said Sreeja.
Sreeja is having a brilliant season with her team Dabang Delhi TTC reaching the semi-finals of Ultimate Table Tennis Season 4.
The Commonwealth Games medal was memorable
The Indian paddler played in her first ever multi-sports showpiece when she participated in Commonwealth Games 2022 and won a mixed doubles gold pairing up with Achanta Sharath Kamal.
"It's the first time I participated in a multisports event. I was a bit nervous too because it was the first time. I think I played well. I was a bit upset with my singles performance. I did well in mixed doubles as well so it was a very good experience. It was the best tournament for me so far," said Sreeja.
While Sreeja won gold in the mixed doubles, she finished fourth in the singles event after fighting hard.
"The singles game was tough. But playing with Sharath bhaiya gave me confidence and it was amazing," Sreeja recalled playing alongside veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal.
Sreeja and Sharath were paired up last moment as Manika Batra was not feeling well.
"I didn't play a lot with him. As Manika di got sick, I played with him. Before CWG 2022, I had just played in one tournament. We were confident going into the Commonwealth Games and he would always encourage me. Along with my coach, he will keep on passing important advice and instructions to me. We both share the same mental trainer and staying in a similar space helped both of us," Sreeja said.
Currently ranked 82nd in the world, Sreeja's main target will be to excel at the upcoming Asian Championships in Korea and Asian Games later on in China.