Sathiyan Gnanasekaran lost both his singles matches in the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification tournament in Gondomar, Portugal on Saturday as the Indian men’s team was knocked out of the event by lower-ranked Czech Republic.
The defeat spelled the end of India hopes of qualifying for Tokyo 2020 in the table tennis team events, with both men and women failing to secure one of the nine tickets that were available at this tournament.
Despite being the highest seeds remaining in contention for the ninth and final spot available in the team event, the Indian men’s team failed to progress beyond the first round of the second stage and ended the campaign on a disappointing note.
Czech Republic, seeded 16th at the tournament, got off to a good start with Tomas Polansky and Lubomir Jancarik winning the doubles 3-1 against Harmeet Desai and Achanta Sharath Kamal.
With Sathiyan struggling for form throughout the event, that was a crucial win for the Czechs as it put the Indians under immediate pressure. And it showed, with world No 45 Pavel Sirucek defeating the highest-ranked Indian paddler in three tight games to give the Europeans a 2-0 lead.
Sharath Kamal kept India alive despite losing the first game of his singles tie against Lubomir Jancarik to win 3-1.
The biggest upset of the tie came in Sathiyan’s second singles match as he was stunned in five games by world No 166 Polansky. The Indian fought hard, trying to pump himself up after big points, but the pressure proved too much in the end for the Indian paddler.
Earlier, the Indian women’s table tennis team’s quest for a Tokyo Olympics berth also ended after a 2-3 defeat to France at the same stage as the men’s.
The Indian women’s team had lost to Romania 2-3 in a pre-quarterfinal match on Friday.
Ranked 23rd just a place above France, the Indian team took the lead through Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukehrjee in the opening match as they defeated Stephanie Loeuillette and Yuan Jian Nan 11-7, 6-11, 10-12, 11-4, 11-8.
Though Manika Batra, ranked 61st, lost her opening singles 7-11, 11-3, 9-11, 11-3, 7-11 to Marie Migot, ranked 195th, she was able to put India back in the reckoning when she won 11-7, 12-10, 11-4 against Stephanie Loeuillette in the second singles.
But the euphoria lasted just a couple of games as Ayhika, playing the last match of the tie against Marie, led 2-1 before her French opponent pulled level and went on to win the decider and send India packing. Ayhika lost 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 9-11, 9-11.
With just two singles entries allowed per country, Indian men and women can still hope for qualification for the singles and mixed doubles events when they participate in the April event in Thailand for singles qualification.