How Indian athletes fared at the World Table Tennis Championships and how will it affect the 2023 Asian Games?

Sharath Kamal Achanta was expected to lead the Indian paddlers toward glory in the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships

One of the biggest table tennis events around the calendar, ITTF World Table Tennis Championships commenced on May 20 at the Durban International Convention Center in South Africa. From China to Germany, the tournament featured top players from around the world. Hence, the hype of the competition was already on the top before it even started. 

Also to mention, Cadbury Dairy Milk’s #CheerForAllSports campaign was a great initiative in making the Indian athlete feel better in Dublin and boosting their morals as they receive support from their friends, family, and fans from back home.

Plenty of Indian paddlers participated in the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships in singles as well as doubles categories. The names were:

Men’s singles: Sharath Kamal Achanta, G Sathiyan, and Manush Shah

Men’s doubles: Sharath Kamal Achanta, G Sathiyan, Hermeet Desai, and Manush Shah

Women’s Singles Qualifiers: Manika Batra, Sreeja Akula, Sutirtha Mukherjee, and Reeth Tennison.

Women’s Doubles Qualifiers: Manika Batra, Archana Kamath, Sreeja Akula, and Diya Chitale

The Indian participation before the tournament looked stacked as the fans had a lot of hope tied with the talented paddlers. From experience and skill to talent and adroitness, the Indians had everything required to perform well on the World stage. However, the Indian paddlers had a forgettable campaign at the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships, in Dublin.

How did Indian paddlers perform at the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships?

On the first day of the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships, the Indian paddlers got off to a losing start. Manush Shah faced South Korea’s Cho Seungmin in his first-round fixture of the championship where despite a tough battle, Shah failed to overcome the challenge as he lost 4-1.

India’s second hope in men’s singles, Harmeet Desai also got a disappointing start as Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia eliminated him 4-1 in the first round. In addition to that, Sutirtha Mukherjee also lost to Tatiana Kukulkova (3-4) in the first round on the inaugural day.  However, good news came from the women’s singles as Sreeja Akula and Reeth Tennison won their respective first-round matches dominantly in the women’s singles discipline.

The women’s doubles pair of Manika Batra/Archana Kamath and the mixed doubles pair of Gnanasekaran Sathiyan/Manika Batra also advanced into the round of 32 in their respective disciplines with astounding wins. 

The second day of the championship was full of winning efforts for the Indians as after recording wins in singles, Gnanasekaran and Sharath Kamal Achanta also stormed into the men’s doubles round of 32 in style. Manika Batra and the mixed-doubles pair of Manav Vikash Thakkar/Archana Girish Kamath also found success and advanced to the respective next rounds. 

On day three, the Indian hopes suffered a huge blow as Achanta and Akula were eliminated in the Round of 128 despite valiant efforts. However, Manika Batra was going strong with all the Indian aspirations on her shoulders. 

Thus, India’s last men’s singles hope, Gnanasekeran, and female paddler, Tennison also lost on the fourth day. In addition to that, the mixed doubles pair of Manav Thakkar/ Archana Kamath were also eliminated on the same day leading to a miserable turn of events in South Africa. 

Batra played well at the world championships but failed to leave a remembering impact

The fifth day of the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships ended India’s hopes of a podium finish. The day started with Sharath Kamal & Gnanasekeran Sathiyan losing against arch-rivals Paul Drinkhall & Liam Pitchford. Moreover, Adriana Diaz also ended Manika Batra’s hopes with a 4-3 defeat in the Round of 16.

Thus, the final Indian pairs remaining in doubles relinquished utterly when Manika Batra/Archana Kamath and Manika Batra/Gnanasekaran Sathiyan also fell short of a win in Durban. Consequently, not a single Indian paddler managed to reach the quarterfinal in South Africa. 

How will India’s run at ITTF World Table Tennis Championships affect their Asian Games run-in?

On a bigger scale, the postponement of certain events (like the Asian Games from 2022 to 2023) has a significant negative impact on athletes’ mental health. They struggle since they have to plan according to the new dates supplied because that is also when the federation activities take place. Athletes typically compete in both solo and team competitions, which causes them to get too exhausted.

However, taking a look back at India’s performance at the 2018 Asian Games, the paddlers managed to secure two bronze medals. The podium finishes were secured in men’s and mixed doubles events. Thus, Indian paddlers will look forward to getting a promotion and securing at least a couple of silver medals in Hangzhou. 

Sun Yingsha is the top-ranked women’s singles paddler in the world currently

Nevertheless, looking at their current performance, it seems difficult. The absolute dominance of China in table tennis is undeniable. The majority of the medals in all the disciples are won by China in the Asian Games as well as, on the bigger stage, the Olympics. Taking a look at the last three editions of the Asian Games, China has leaked only one gold medal, in the mixed doubles events in 2014, which was clinched by North Korea.

Moreover, the 2023 Asian Games will be taking place in Hangzhou, which will offer a home advantage to Chinese athletes. Consequently, denying the likes of top Chinese players that are leading the rankings such as Fan Zhendong, Wang Chuqin, Ma Long, Sun Yingsha, Wang Manyu, Wang Yidi, and more, seems highly unlikely for the Indian peddlers. 

Apart from the hosts, South Korea and Japan are other concerning roadblocks in India’s way to a successful campaign. This, disappointing run in South Africa will probably result in India having a worrying campaign in China in the coming September.