World Team TT Championships: Ayhika Mukherjee's star turn helps India seal win - Hindustan Times
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World Team TT Championships: Ayhika Mukherjee's star turn helps India seal another win

By, Mumbai
Feb 20, 2024 11:19 PM IST

The win took India into the knockouts as the second-best team of Group 1 with three wins and a close 3-2 defeat to table-toppers and defending champions China

Two-nil down against Spain, the Indian women's team found itself in a hole in its final group tie of the 2024 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan on Tuesday. In walked Ayhika Mukherjee and, just like she did against Hungary a couple of days ago, won a momentum-shifting third rubber to pluck her team out of it.

India's Ayhika Mukherjee in action during her women's singles group stage match against China's Sun Yingsha (REUTERS)
India's Ayhika Mukherjee in action during her women's singles group stage match against China's Sun Yingsha (REUTERS)

Manika Batra and Sreeja Akula completed the gritty comeback to place India into the knockouts as the second-best team of Group 1 with three wins and a close 3-2 defeat to table-toppers and defending champions China.

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The men's team also advanced, although far less convincingly, after a 3-0 victory over a winless New Zealand in its final Group 3 tie. They sneaked in third with two wins and as many losses.

Whether or not the Indians return from this prestigious event with a team quota for the 2024 Paris Olympics, handed to the quarter-finalists, will be determined on Wednesday. Both teams have a difficult path towards that.

The women take on Italy in the Round of 32 and, should they advance, the fourth-ranked Chinese Taipei in the Round of 16 later in the day. Chinese Taipei topped Group 4 and have world No. 10 Cheng I-Ching, No. 41 Chen Szu-Yu and No. 66 Li Yu-Jhun in their armory. The men are drawn with Kazakhstan for a spot in the Round of 16 where Korea awaits. The Koreans had smashed the Indians 3-0 in the group tie on Monday and it will take something extraordinary from the men's team to turn it around against the hosts if they do get past the Kazakhs.

The turnaround from the women's team on Tuesday was creditable. Needing a win against Spain to confirm a second-place finish in the group, Sreeja and Manika gave a rather off-colour start. While the former lost to world No. 63 Maria Xiao 1-3 (9-11, 11-9, 11-13, 4-11), the top-ranked Indian was surprised by 120th-ranked Sofia-Xuan Zhang 2-3 (11-13, 11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 7-11).

With her team staring down the barrel, Ayhika stepped up. Ranked 153 in singles, the Indian has been an inspired pick in this tournament. She scripted the most famous win of her singles career in beating world No. 1 Sun Yingha and except the defeat in her second rubber against China, has won all her matches. She had also given India the edge in the third rubber against Hungary with things tied at 1-1, and kept her team alive against Spain by edging past Elvira Rad 3-2 (11-8, 11-13, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4).

Her more accomplished singles colleagues also stepped up in time. After Manika brushed aside Xiao 3-0 (11-9, 11-2, 11-4), Sreeja took down the southpaw Zhang 3-1 (11-6, 11-13, 11-6, 11-3).

After winning the first game, Sreeja was in control at 9-5 in the second before Zhang won four straight points. Sreeja squandered a game point while Zhang converted her second. Trailing 5-6 in the third game, Zhang took a lengthy break and returned with some visible discomfort in her playing hand. She managed to win just four points in the match from there. On her part, Sreeja did well to be not bothered by what was happening across the table and remain solid with her play.

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