India’s men team could not have asked for a better draw on the eve of the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament, beginning at Gondomar, Portugal from Wednesday.
The Indian men’s table tennis squad is well placed to create history at the Olympic qualifiers beginning on Wednesday, the fifth seeds needing just a quarter-final finish to ensure its maiden qualification as a team at the Summer Games.
Unless the team comprising G Sathiyan (world rank 30), veteran Sharath Kamal (WR 33) and Harmeet Desai (WR 86) play badly, India should not have a lot of difficulty in making the Olympic cut.
In the past games, Indian players have played only in individual events but now three of them being in top-100 shows the rapid strides India has taken at the highest level.
The men take on Luxembourg in their opening match and women, seeded 17th, face a formidable Sweden.
Ahead of the tournament, the squad had a camp in Chennai before it travelled to Germany to train with its national team.
Despite the lack of a head coach since the 2019 Asian Games, Indian players have been producing impressive on the professional circuit.
The men’s team had ended a 60-year wait by winning a historic bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta.
The contingent’s campaign got even better Sharath and Manika Batra, who won four medals at the preceding Commonwealth Games, bagged a surprise bronze in the mixed doubles.
Nine qualifying spots are on offer at the ITTF organised event. A top-eight finish guarantees Olympic qualification.
As for Indian women’s squad, seeded No. 17, the task is much tougher despite having Manika Batra, the top-ranked Indian in the world at No. 61, as they first run into Sweden, seeded No. 16 and having top-ranked player Matilda Ekholm (No. 35) and Linda Bergstorm (No. 75).
The Indian women squad will have to overcome the two while their other players—Filippa Bergand (No. 179) and Christina Kallberg (No. 197) – can be overcome by the Indians, who have the experienced Madhurika Patkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Ayhika Mukherjee and Archana Kamath in their ranks.
Even if the Indians manage to put it across Sweden, ranked No. 22, they would next run into Romania, the fifth-seeded squad, and ranked No. 8 in the world. For the records, Romanians have the best set of players in Bernadette Szocs, who is ranked No. 19 in the world, with adequate help coming from Elizabeta Samara (No. 31), Daniela Dodean (No. 134) and Irina Ciobanu (No. 133).
Indian coaches Arup Basak and Soumyadeep Roy while agreeing that the men’s squad have “a fantastic draw and should make the Olympics cut, it will be a difficult proposition for the women’s squad.”
They, however, added both the squads will put their best foot forward and make use of the chances.
Korea is the top seed in men’s category, followed by Chinese Taipei, Sweden, France and India.
Hong Kong is the top seed in women’s event, followed by Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea and Romania.