India’s top four table tennis players – Achanta Sharath Kamal, Gnansekaran Sathiyan, Sutirtha Mukherjee and Manika Batra – qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the Asian Olympic Qualification tournament in Doha on Thursday.

While Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee sealed their Olymoic quota spots with group-topping wins at the tournament, Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra’s qualification is based on their higher ranking. They will be confirmed when the rankings are updated in April.

This will be Sharath’s fourth Olympic appearance and the second for Batra, while Sathiyan and Mukherjee qualified for their first-ever Games.

Mukherjee, India’s second-highest-ranked female player, beat India No 1 Batra 4-2 (7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 4-11, 11-5, 11-4) in a winner-takes-all clash. Despite her defeat, Batra made the cut as the highest-ranked second-placed players in the group.

Earlier, Sathiyan had beaten veteran Sharath 4-3 (11-9, 15-13, 5-11, 7-11, 10-12, 11-9, 11-8) in the opening match to put himself on the threshold of qualification. Both the Indian players then played Pakistan’s Muhammad Rameez and beat him to seal their spots.

Sharath beat Rameez 4-0 (11-4, 11-1, 11-5, 11-4) in little over 22 minutes in the second men’s singles match, which ensured at least a second-place finish and it was enough to secure a spot. Sathiyan then beat Rameez 4-0 (11-5, 11-8, 11-9, 11-2) to clinch the spot reserved for South Asia region.

The Indians will now shift focus on securing mixed double qualification where Sharath and Batra cruised into the semi-finals after the pair defeated Mohammed Abdulwahhab and Maha Faramarzi of Qatar 4-0 (11-6, 11-6, 11-2, 11-3) in the quarters.

The Indian pair, which received a bye in the first round, will now take on Koen Pang Yew En and Ye Lin of Singapore in the last-four match on Friday.

“It was a good match against Sathiyan but I made some errors and he capitalised on them to win the match. I was a bit nervous before playing against Rameez as I had never faced him before. But after the first few games I was confident that my strategy was working and I executed it well to maintain control,” the World No. 32 Sharath said from Doha after qualifying.

The 38-year-old returned to the table after a break of almost a year at the recently concluded WTT Contender Doha and a last-16 finish in the two events as well as defeating World No 16 Patrick Franziska gave him enough confidence ahead of the Asian Qualifiers.

“A lot of things have happened since March 2020. I became the champion in Oman and was in good touch, was preparing to play the qualification match in Thailand in just two weeks and suddenly everything came to a standstill. I have achieved the best rankings of my career and it’s a huge sigh of relief especially the way this year has been. Though this will be my fourth Olympics, it will be my best Olympic Games,” he added.

Qualification explainer at AQT:

With allocation from ITTF, six men and six women will be selected to participate in the Summer Games. One player from each regional zone (Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and West Asia) will be selected from the respective regional zone.

Apart from the West Asia Region, who have already qualified players, players from other regions will compete among themselves in this tournament to determine a total of four regional quota places per gender, with one from each region. This is where Sathiyan and Mukherjee earned their assured qualification spots for topping the South Asia section.

The remaining one Asian Continental quota place shall be allocated to the highest ranked player among the respective first reserve players in each regional qualification, based on the April 2021 ITTF Olympic Qualification Ranking Lists. Sharath and Batra are the highest-ranked reserve players and when the ranking list is made official in April, the duo will earn their singles spots.

One Mixed Doubles pair will be selected from Asia by the qualification tournament. This is the challenge now facing Sharath and Batra, who are the second seeds in the knockout event.