India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra stunned the top-seeded Korean pair of Sang-Su Lee and Jihee Jeon in the mixed doubles final of the Asian Olympic Qualification event in Doha on Saturday to clinch a quota spot for Tokyo 2020.
The Indian paddlers, ranked 18 in the world, trailed by two games at the start of the final but turned it around in sensational style to clinch the match 4-2.
With just one mixed doubles quota place available at this event and in all likelihood their final shot to reach the Olympic Games, Sharath and Batra produced a stirring come back to win 8-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-6, 13-11, 11-8.
First game: After a close start at 4-4, the Koreans went to 10-4 as points on serve deserted the Indians. They fought back to make it 8-10 but Koreaans clinched the game.
Second game: It was more of the same in the second game as points on serve proved hard to come by for the Indians who actually led at 6-5. From there, the Koreans won six straight points.
Third game: With six straight points, Indians opened up a 9-2 lead. Then converted a game point at 10-5 to start their fightback.
Fourth game: It was another close start at 3-3. With both teams winning more points on their opponents serve, India lead 7-3. Koreans closed the gap to make it 5-7. Then India had five game points at 10-5 and needed their second opportunity to level things up.
Fifth game: The most thrilling of all the games saw the Indians go into a 7-3 lead. The Koreans fought back to make it 7-7, 8-8 and 9-9. But at the crucial point, it was the Koreans who had game points at 10-9 and then 11-10, both of which were saved. With their first game point, the Indians moved into a 3-2 lead.
Sixth game: The Koreans started strong to open up a 4-2 lead, then 8-4. But from 4-8 down, the Indians went on a spree of seven straight points to clinch the match and the Olympic quota.
The Indians had overcome Singapore’s Koen Pang Yew En and Lin Ye 4-2 in the semifinals on Friday.
Th Final against the Korea pair was a repeat of their pre-quarterfinal clash from the 2018 Asian Games where Sharath and Batra had defeated this very pair on their way to a historic bronze medal.
Earlier in the event, the four Indian paddlers in contention — Sharath, Batra, G Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee — earned themselves singles qualification at the Tokyo Olympics as well. While Sathiyan and Sutirtha emerged winners in their respective categories of the South Asian Group for their assured quota spots, Sharath and Batra sealed Tokyo berths by virtue of being the highest-ranked second-placed players. Their quotas are set to be confirmed once the ranking list for April is issued.
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. And with pretty much their last shot, Sharath and Batra upset the highest ranked pair in the draw to clinch their place at Tokyo where mixed doubles would be India’s best shot at a medal.