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2021 Tokyo Olympics | Meet your Olympians - Indian Table Tennis Team

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India have never won a medal in Table Tennis at the Olympics

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2021 Tokyo Olympics | Meet your Olympians - Indian Table Tennis Team

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sounak mullick

06/26/2021

Four Table Tennis players have qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, which also includes the legendary Sharath Kamal - set to make his fourth appearance at the Games. Manika Batra will make appear for the second time, while Gnansekaran Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee will make their debut.

Table Tennis was introduced at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Indian players have appeared in the mega event ever since. However, paddlers from the country never came close to winning a medal at the Games. However, times are changing and the determination shown by the Indians in recent times have escalated hopes drastically.

Four Indian Table Tennis stars will feature in the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics across three events. Legendary player Sharath Kamal will appear in his fourth Olympics, while Manika Batra will be back after making her Games debut in 2016. However, It will be a first for Gnanasekaran Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee.

Now, let us have a closer look at the contingent, itself - 

Sharath Kamal (Men's Singles, Mixed Doubles)

Sharath Kamal is a nine-time national champion © Facebook

Born to a family of Table Tennis players, he was destined to hold the paddle someday and it happened at the age of 4. However, Sharath Kamal found himself stuck at a critical juncture at the age of 15, where the Chennai-based player had to choose between studies and an engineering degree. But, he stuck to the former option, which saw India produce its greatest ever paddler. 

Marking his entry into the international stage with his maiden appearance at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Sharath had taken off for a never-seen-before journey in Indian Table Tennis. With eight Commonwealth Games medals, two in Asian Games, two ITTF Pro Tour Titles and record nine national titles, Sharath’s legacy is one for the ages. The legendary player has already made three appearances at the Olympic Games, starting with his debut at the 2004 edition in Athens. 

Despite his entries, his results at the quadrennial event have been dismaying, having never got past the second round. Set to appear in his final appearance at the event, the 38-year old would be itching to sign-off with a memorable outing. For the first time, Sharath would be featuring in two events at the Olympics.

Gnansekaran Sathiyan (Men's Doubles)

Gnanasekaran Sathiyan is the only Indian to have won two ITTF Pro Tour titles ©

It’s the time when you are pinned against the wall that teaches you the greatest lessons and for Gnanasekeran Sathiyan, it was apt. All roads were leading to Rio five years ago; however, the demise of his father fell like lightning, less than a year before the Olympics. Devastated and crestfallen by the loss, Sathiyan completely lost focus and missed the cut to the mega after skipping the Asian qualification event. The testing times did bring out the best of him in the following years.

Staging a remarkable turnaround, Sathiyan claimed top finish at the 2016 ITTF Challenge Belgium Open, following it up with the Spanish Open win in 2017 – becoming the first Indian to claim two ITTF Pro Tour titles. The paddler kept on adding feathers to his cap, bagging a total of four medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games respectively. 

In 2019, the Chennai-based paddler reached a career-high of 24 in the world rankings, thus becoming the first Indian to break into the top 25. It was in the same year that he defeated two higher-ranked players to reach the round-of-16 at the 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup. As far as the record in the build-up to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics goes, we are ought to see something special.

Despite his entries, his results at the quadrennial event have been dismaying, having never got past the second round. Set to appear in his final appearance at the event, the 38-year old would be itching to sign-off with a memorable outing. For the first time, Sharath would be featuring in two events at the Olympics.

Manika Batra (Women's Singles, Mixed Doubles)

TTFI © Manika Batra is the highest-ranked Indian women's Table Tennis player

Turning down modelling offers, dropping out of college to focus on the game, a lot of sacrifice goes behind the making of a successful athlete; Manika Batra’s story has every bit of it. With colossal influence drawn from her elder sister Anchal, the former transcended to emerge as one of India’s most prominent female athletes over in recent times. 

The Chile Open, in 2011, handed Manika the perfect opportunity to surface her talent, as she smashed her way to a championship win in the U-21 event. From there on, it only went uphill. Steadily climbing up the graph, she emerged as an obvious inclusion for India’s contingent at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, followed by the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. 

Following a memorable outing at the 2016 South Asian Games, where she bagged three golds and one silver medal respectively, the paddler saw herself qualify for the 2016 Rio Games. A first-round exit at the mega event might not have boosted her confidence, but helped her gain valuable experience. It will all come in handy when she serves on the table in Tokyo. The mixed doubles team, which she’s a part of along with Sharath Kamal, is touted as a possible medal prospect.

Sutirtha Mukherjee (Women's Singles)

Sutirtha Mukherjee will be making appearing for her maiden Olympics, in Tokyo © Twitter

A product of Mihir Ghosh’s academy in Naihati, West Bengal, from where several national-level players emerged, Sutirtha Mukherjee was going down the path. Unfortunately, as she had her eyeballs set on the Rio Olympics, an age-fraud allegation on her surfaced, with the TTFI handing a one-year suspension. The hibernation was depressing, which led her to squander around, skip training sessions and even compelled her to stop watching the sport at all. 

Overcoming the one-year hiatus, an injury scare and motivation from kin, Sutirtha geared up to put her derailed career on track. Two national titles in 2017 and 2019 were exemplary chat-back to his critics without uttering a single word. Shifting base from the sub-urban domain to the Kolkata metropolis was significant, as Sutirtha started training under the watchful eyes of former Olympian Poulomi Ghatak and ex-player Soumyadip Roy. 

Sutirtha's long-standing dream of qualifying for the Olympics finally came true earlier this year - when she blanked India’s top-ranked player Manika Batra in the Asian Qualifying match in Doha. It has been a sensational journey for Sutirtha, who saw herself climb from 502 in the world rankings into the top-100. Now, it’s all up to her, to unleash the best game in the world’s grandest stage.

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