Indian men’s and women’s table tennis teams are one win away from qualifying for Tokyo Olympics. At the ongoing World Olympic Qualifying tournaments in Portugal, the Indian teams posted contrasting wins to advance to the round of 16 on Wednesday.
The women’s team staged an incredible comeback against higher-ranked Sweden to win 3-2 and seal a berth in the next round in which they face Romania. In the women’s round of 32 match, India started with a loss as Ayhika Mukherjee and Archana Kamath lost to Matilda Ekholm and Christina Kallberg 7-11, 10-12, 15-17.
But Manika Batra won her singles match against Linda Bergstrom in four games 11-4, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7 to tie the match 1-1 and keep India’s hopes alive. In the next singles match, Mukherjee failed to beat Ekholm losing 1-3 and it was again on Batra to keep India alive. She did exactly that with a 10-12, 11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 11-7 win over Kallberg.
With the match tied 2-2, India needed Kamath to win the decider against Bergstrom, a player ranked higher than Kamath. But that did not deter the Indian as she managed to make a stunning comeback for a victory in five games. She beat Bergstrom 11-8, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11, saving two match points.
Batra’s heroics to win both her matches and Kamath’s cool in the tense decider helped India move closer to qualifying for the Tokyo Games.
Earlier on the men’s side, India did not face much of a challenge from Luxembourg and won their tie 3-0 to advance to the next round in which they face Slovenia who defeated Iran.
Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai began the proceedings for India as they took on Gilles Michely and Eric Gold. The Luxembourg pair failed to put up a fight as India cruised to a 11-9, 16-14, 11-6 win in the first game.
In the men’s singles, Luka Mladenovic put up an incredible fight and won the first two games. But ultimately he fell short as Sathiyan Gnanasekaran recovered to win 8-11, 9-11, 11-3, 13-11, 11-6 and extend India’s advantage over Luxembourg to 2-0.
The tie was sealed by veteran Sharath Kamal as he defeated Gold 11-3, 11-3, 12-14, 11-5.
Indian men face Slovenia next. Both the round of 16 fixtures for India are scheduled for Friday.