India’s top-ranked women paddler Manika Batra and world No 157 Sutirtha Mukherjee stunned world No 19 Bernadette Szocs in their respective singles matches but the women’s team was unable to overcome fifth-seeded Romania with an Olympics spot at stake in the ITTF World Team Qualification tournament in Gondomar, Portugal on Friday.
A win in the round of 16 guarantees a spot at the Summer Olympic Games but India missed a golden chance to upset Romania over the five matches.
The Indian men also had a forgettable day. Fifth seeds India were defeated 3-1 by 11th seeds Slovenia. Sharath Kamal lost in the fourth match of the tie against Darko Jorgic.
Just like the women, the men have to go through three more rounds to book a place to Tokyo.
Earlier, ith the tie level at 2-2 after Sutirtha Mukherjee’s massive upset against Szocs, Batra could not defeat Romania’s Daniela Monteiro (ranked 73 places below the Indian) as the latter stormed to a win in four games to cause heartbreak for India.
Indian women still have an outside chance to earn a ticket to Tokyo 2020 if they win the second round of knockout matches. The ninth ticket to Tokyo will go to the winner of the second stage of knockout matches among the eight teams that lost in the round of 16.
India started brightly with Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee winning the opening game of the doubles tie and later taking a 2-1 lead against Elizabeta Samara and Daniela Monteiro but the Romanians won the last two games to give their team a 1-0 lead.
It was then Batra’s turn to register one of the biggest wins of her career as she downed Szocs in four games.
In the third match, Ayhika Mukherjee did well to take a game of Elizabeta Samara but the world No 31 was too good otherwise, winning by a 3-1 margin.
The best result of the night for India came from 24-year-old Sutirtha Mukherjee as she clinched a titanic tussle with Szocs.
With victory in sight, however, Batra succumbed to the pressure against Monteiro.
The men were expected to be favourites against Slovenia but led by the rising talent of Darko Jorgic, the European side overcame India. Both Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Sharath Kamal lost their matches to world No 40 Jorgic while Harmeet Desai also lost his singles tie. Despite starting with a win in the doubles tie, Indian men could not win and seal their ticket to Tokyo 2020.
In the second stage of the knockout event featuring the eight teams that lost in the round of 16, the men and women are contrastingly placed. Manika Batra and Co face France in the first round while the men’s team take on Czech Republic. The women’s team face a daunting task, given that there are only two teams seeded lower than them in the group of eight. South Korea’s presence in this stage (having lost to North Korea) makes them the clear favourite to clinch the sole quota remaining.
For the men, they are the highest seeds present in the second stage of the event. They face Czech Replublic in the first round and could run into Great Britain next.