Just about two weeks ago, four Indian paddlers booked their tickets to the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The achievement, though a huge one, did not come as a surprise and is evident of the growing culture of table tennis in India over the years. Today we have six Indians in the top-100 of the senior world rankings, the men’s team is placed in the top-10 while the world number 1 in the U-21 category is also from India.
On the special occasion of World Table Tennis Day, here are the top-5 milestone moments of Indian table tennis that have contributed to the resurgence of the sport in the country.
Chasing an Olympics dream
The upcoming Tokyo Olympics will see four Indian paddlers—Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee—leading a strong challenge. While the quartet feature in respective singles categories, the pair of Sharath and Manika will also represent the country in mixed-doubles, which will be played for the first time at the Olympics, aiming to end the country’s wait for an elusive medal in the sport at the Olympics. The journey which was initiated for the first time ever at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where the trio of Kamlesh Mehta, Sujay Ghorpade and Niyati Roy-Shah participated and registered India’s maiden appearance in TT at the prestigious event.
2006 CWG: Sensational Sharath
A 6-feet 2-inch lanky paddler from Tamil Nadu announced his arrival at the international circuit in the early 2000s and soon the world witnessed glimpses of the skills acquired by India’s then ‘legend in the making’. Achanta Sharath Kamal clinched gold at the 2004 Commonwealth TT Championship and also made his maiden Olympics appearance the same year. Two years later, Sharath etched his name into history books and scripted a new chapter in Indian TT when he outclassed local favourite William Henzell in Melbourne to become the first Indian paddler to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. India’s current top-ranked paddler Sharath, who has a record nine senior national titles to his name, has been preparing with gusto to produce a memorable show in his fourth Olympics at the Tokyo Games.
UTT and TTFI scripting a new era
Table Tennis Federation of India’s (TTFI) strong domestic initiatives received a further boost as Vita Dani and Niraj Bajaj founded Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) in 2017. UTT heralded a new era for the sport, boosting its ecosystem with a well-connected bottom-up approach that links the grassroots to the existing TTFI initiatives, while introducing a world-class annual league tournament. UTT has also provided a much-needed global platform where Indian players get maximum international exposure, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best. The inaugural edition of the league saw current Indian stars Manika Batra and Gnanasekaran Sathiyan announcing their arrival at the big stage with some breathtaking performances while the next two seasons also witnessed the rise of young and upcoming players like Sutirtha Mukherjee, Manav Thakkar and Archana Kamath. The league has documented some of the world’s best players in action and how India has become a TT destination for these players. Working alongside TTFI, UTT is also focused on grassroots development which includes support to academies, organising school nationals and becoming a strong stakeholder for all major TT events.
2018 CWG: Manika’s magical show
The 2018 Commonwealth Games was the most successful edition in the history of Indian TT as the contingent concluded its campaign at No. 1 position with three gold, two silver and three bronze medals. However, the key highlight of the team was the emergence of star paddler Manika Batra who produced a magical show in Gold Coast. With a victory against Yu Mengyu from Singapore, Batra became the first Indian woman paddler to clinch the gold medal at CWG. She also led the women’s team to a historic gold medal triumph and bagged silver and bronze in the women’s and mixed doubles category respectively to end her campaign on a high.
History in Jakarta
Fresh from the heroics at Gold Coast CWG, a few months later Indian TT saw one more glittering chapter being added at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. This time a team comprising Achanta Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan and Anthony Amalraj gave the country its first-ever TT medal at the second biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympics. Though the three-men Indian team lost to South Korea in the semi-final, they secured a bronze medal. Later, Sharath partnered with Manika Batra as the duo added one more bronze into the country’s medals tally with a semi-final finish in mixed-doubles.