Direct spot shut, route to Paris Olympics remains open for Indian TT teams - Hindustan Times
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Direct spot shut, route to Paris Olympics remains open for Indian TT teams

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Feb 21, 2024 10:59 PM IST

Both teams lost in the Round of 16 but world rankings route could see them make it to the Olympics

The Indian men’s and women’s teams could not grab the direct Paris Olympics spot on offer for the quarter-finalists at the 2024 World Team Table Tennis Championships. Yet, they remain on track to get there.

India's Manika Batra in action during her women's singles group stage match(REUTERS)
India's Manika Batra in action during her women's singles group stage match(REUTERS)

Led by Manika Batra’s quality opening win, the women’s team went down fighting 3-1 to fourth-ranked Chinese Taipei in the Round of 16 on Wednesday in Busan after they’d beaten Italy 3-0 in the Round of 32 earlier in the day. The men, having sneaked past Kazakhstan 3-2 in the Round of 32, were blanked by hosts Korea again as the quarter-final entry proved a bridge too far.

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The route to Paris though still remains open through the rankings route for both teams, confirmation of which will come on March 5 after the updated team rankings are out. The women, currently ranked 17, will pocket more crucial ranking points on the back of a creditable outing in this tournament in which they won four matches and lost two (to defending champions China and Chinese Taipei). The 15th-ranked men, who had a mixed bag of three victories and as many defeats, are also likely to sneak in.

“Both teams stand a very good chance of qualifying for the Olympics through their world rankings. We will have to wait till we receive the official confirmation and updated rankings list on March 5,” said Kamlesh Mehta, Table Tennis Federation of India’s secretary general.

“Based on the procedure, we will be the last team to qualify for both the men and women through the world rankings. This will be officially announced on March 5. So until then, we will also have to wait," Sharath Kamal, the team’s most experienced paddler, said over phone from Busan.

As per the initial qualification system, only one team could get in through the rankings. However, more spots opened up as some of the quarter-finalists in Busan have already qualified either through the continental quota or as the host nation. It includes China, Germany (continental) and France (hosts) among the women, and China (continental) and France (hosts) among the men.

That both the Indian teams advanced to the Round of 16 in Busan and did not crash out earlier meant they gave themselves a chance to cash in on the additional ranking quotas.

“I feel both teams did well in this tournament,” Mehta, a multiple-time national champion, said. “But yes, what the women did against China (India ran the defending champions close in a 2-3 defeat) was incredible. It's not every day that something that like happens.”

If Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula stunning the world No. 1 and 2 Chinese was special, the team ensured they backed it up by beating higher-ranked Hungary and winning the rest of their group matches. That brought them to the Round of 32 as the second-best from their group, and it showed in the way they dispatched Italy 3-0 with only Ayhika dropping a game.

That then brought them to a battle with Chinese Taipei for a spot in the quarters, and India had their moments against a much-fancied opponent as well. Especially Manika, who began by beating world No. 41 Chen Szu-Yu 3-2 (11-8, 8-11, 4-11, 11-9, 11-9) in a high-quality match. Trailing in the fourth game, the top-ranked Indian finished strongly to take the momentum into the decider. Every time Chen nudged ahead in it, Manika kept coming back and from 8-8, the Indian zoomed past for victory.

Sreeja went down to No. 10 Cheng I-Ching 3-0 (6-11, 9-11, 5-11), and Ayhika to Li Yu-Jhun 1-3 (10-12, 13-15, 11-9, 2-11) despite building a lead in the first three games. Manika put up a fight against Cheng — she also held a game point in the opener — before losing 1-3 (10-12, 11-5, 9-11, 5-11).

The men had a more up-and-down ride. Defeat to lower-ranked Poland pushed them to third in the group, and it needed Sharath’s rescue act and Harmeet Desai’s composure to get them past Kazakhstan in the Round of 32. Down 1-0 in the tie and 2-0 in the match, Sharath cooked up a comeback against Alan Kurmangaliyev 3-2 (6-11, 7-11, 11-7, 13-11, 11-9). G Sathiyan gave them the lead beating Aidos Kenzhigulov 3-1 (11-6, 5-11, 11-2, 11-7). Sharath’s 3-1 loss to Kirill Gerassimenko brought it down to Harmeet pulling off the decider against Alan 3-1 (11-6, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7). And just in like the group stage, Korea proved too good for the Indians in the Round of 16.

“We had a roller-coaster of a tournament — finishing one place below our seeding in the group stage, getting to the knockouts and beating Kazakhstan in a close tie. And finally, here we are," an exhausted Sharath said. “Proud of what the teams have achieved here. We should make it to the Olympics... just have to keep our fingers crossed until March 5.”

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