Riding on their success at the Commonwealth Games 2018, India’s men’s table tennis team put up a strong showing to finish 13th in the World Team Table Tennis Championships that concluded in Halmstad, Sweden, on Sunday.

The 13th-placed finish ensured that the Indian team have automatically qualified for the Championship division (first of three divisions) for the next edition in 2020.

The women’s team, however, struggled in the top flight this time around, losing all their group stage matches and finished 17th overall. Their solitary win in Halmstad came against Luxembourg in the 13-24 classification round. Their place in the Championships Division for the next edition will be determined by their rankings closer to the tournament in 2020.

Historic result for men’s team

The Indian men’s team finished in the top 15 at the World Championships for the first time in over three decades. The previous best finish was in 1985, when the team finished 12th. In fact, since their 16th-placed finish in 1987, the Indian team featured in the second division. After topping the second division in 2016, this was the men’s team’s re-entry into the top flight and they ensured they will stay among the elite for the next year.

India’s strong run this year was inspired by Achanta Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. The former, who is 35 years old, started off the tournament with four wins in four matches. The highlight for Sharath Kamal was defeating world No 10 Simon Gauzy to bring India on the brink of a famous win against fourth seeds France in the group stages. But Sathiyan couldn’t overcome Emmanuel Lebesson in the decider.

That result would be reversed in the knockout phase, however, as India pulled off a thrilling win against the formidable French side in the 13-20 classification round. This time around, Sathiyan managed to defeat the world No 28 Lebesson in the decider as India clinched the tie 3-2.

The other highlight of the tournament for the men’s team was a fantastic come-from-behind against Croatia in the group stage. From 2-0 down, Harmeet Desai, Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal won their matches to make it a 3-2 win. Sathiyan impressed once again by defeating Croatia’s top-ranked player (world No 38) Andrej Gacina in the fourth match of the tie.

India, seeded 13th in tournament, had a golden chance to make it to the round of 16 with a 2-0 lead against 11th seeds Austria in the final group game, but went down 2-3 in the tie.

Men's team at the 2018 World TT Championships

Match (Seed in brackets) Stage  Result
India (13) v France (4) Group D France won 3-2
India (13) v Poland (22) Group D India won 3-2
India (13) v Korea Rep (5) Group D Korea won 3-0
India (13) v  Croatia (20) Group D India won 3-2
India (13) v Austria (11) Group D Austria won 3-2
India (13) v Singapore (21) Round of 13-24 India won 3-0
India (13) v France (4) Round of 13-20 India won 3-2
India (13) v Romania (17) Round of 13-16 India won 3-1

Women’s team struggles

The women’s team, led by Manika Batra, India’s star at Gold Coast in the Commonwealth Games, struggled in Halmstad, losing all their matches in the group stage of the Championship Division. Placed in a tough group alongside top seeds and 21-time world champions China, hosts Sweden and the eighth seeds Singapore, India were always in for a tough time at the tournament.

While defeats to heavyweights like China and Russia were expected, the team would be disappointed losing to lower-ranked Sweden and Singapore, the team they defeated at Gold Coast on their way to the gold.

Batra, India’s highest ranked player, found the going tough at the tournament. She lost to opponents ranked much below her from Sweden and Belarus. Her only win in the group stage was against Russia’s Yana Noskova, world No 76. She did lead India to the 17th-placed finish, winning both her matches against Luxembourg in the 13-24 classification round.

It is worth noting that the women’s team was also making a comeback to the top flight after more than three decades, thanks to winning the second division title in 2016, just like the men’s team. Their previous best finish was in 1981, when the team ended up 16th. A 17th-placed finish in 2018 is the women’s best showing since then as well, although they finished one spot lower than their current world ranking.

Women's team at the 2018 World TT Championships

Match (Seed in brackets) Stage Result
India (16) v China (1) Group A China won 3-0
India (16) v Sweden (24) Group A Sweden won 3-1
India (16) v Singapore (8) Group A Singapore won 3-0
India (16) v Belarus (18) Group A Belarus won 3-0
India (16) v Russia (9) Group A Russia won 3-1
India (16) v Luxembourg (22) Round of 13-24 India won 3-1
India (16) v Hungary (10) Round of 13-20 Hungary won 3-0