Archana and Sreeja Overcome ‘Fear Factor’ to Shine at Asian Table Tennis C’Ships

Showing a blazing upward curve for the past three years, table tennis in India has been a revelation. While Indian paddlers weren’t taken seriously on the world table tennis circuit, things have changed dramatically since the 2018 Commonwealth Games which virtually changed the narrative thanks to Manika Batra, Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. As torchbearers of Indian table tennis, the trio led forward and set examples that were quite moving for the junior generation of players who eventually began to emerge from the shadows and barge in. in the limelight and young Archana Kamath and Sreeja Akula are the latest additions to this frenzy of sensational discoveries.

The ITTF-ATTU 2021 Asian Table Tennis Championships have proven to be the most successful Indian outing in recent years. The last medal having arrived 45 years ago in 1976, India made up for the shortage of medals by winning 3 bronze medals at this edition of the prestigious biennial continental championships. The men’s team led by Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Harmeet Desai, Manav Thakkar and Sanil Shetty produced stunning performances, but it was the relatively young and aspiring women’s team who were led by Sutirtha Mukherjee returning from Tokyo and had Archana Kamath, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula in the mix that really made us sit back and notice this gathering force of budding paddlers.

Immediately after their outings at the WTT Star Contender Doha and Asian TT Championships ended, Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath had an exclusive conversation with The bridge as they happily looked forward to the coming season, fertile to bring home medals and propel Indian table tennis to greater heights. Building on the experience they gained from the WTT Star Contender in Doha and the Asian Championships, Sreeja and Archana have gained new confidence in their game and are finally learning to spread their wings and invade fearlessly.

Stir Up a Storm – Archana and Sreeja emerge fearlessly

Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath (Source: ITTF)

Attending the ITTF Junior Tour with a lot of pomp, Archana Kamath and Sreeja Akula made silent blasts along the way until at the WTT Star Contender they dared to be fearless and ended up upsetting the higher ranked players. than them. At the WTT Star Contender in Doha, 23-year-old Sreeja Akula managed to knock down world number 21 Hyowon Suh to advance to the pre-quarterfinals while Archana Kamath made a powerful comeback from behind against Japan’s Miyu Nagasaki to seal a place in the neighborhoods. Also at the Asian Championships, Archana and Sreeja continued to impress players from Japan, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Qatar and Kazakhstan with skill and ease.

For Archana, the two outings in Doha gave her a new perspective as she recounts The bridge, “These two tournaments were very good. I had a lot of opportunities to play against very good players. It was a great learning experience for me.” In Asians, Archana impressed in the teams while in mixed doubles with Manav Thakkar she advanced to the quarter-finals and in individual, Kamath lost only to Korea’s Shin Yubin in the round of 16.

“I learned a lot from these two tournaments in regards to my game, how much I have to improve … also, I think how important it is to keep fighting, to play the game and we never know how things can turn out, ”said Kamath, 21, softly.

For Sreeja, the events in Doha were more aimed at overcoming her fears and breaking with certain notions she had: “At the Star Contender event, I beat the world number 21 in the second round, so it was the upheaval. major of the tournament. Personally. , this is one of the best upheavals I have had so far, “said the Hyderabad-based paddler, laughing and mentioning.” I felt great, even my coach was there during this tournament and his support has helped me a lot. After that match, I was very confident against the Asians and I was able to play well at the Asian TT Championships, ”Sreeja said.

“I used to think they were very good, very fast and it would be difficult for me, but it has now collapsed. But now that the fear factor is gone, I can be confident against the Asians after these two tournaments. “said the small power plant reassuringly affirmed.

The Indian women’s team, even without its star paddler, Manika Batra, were quite impressive as they finished fifth, their best performance to date. In fact, they didn’t lose their ties by misfortune, but rather fought tooth and nail, especially against strong ping-pong nations like Japan. “This is the first time that I’m part of the women’s team and that I participate in an official tournament. It was very new for me, playing against top players, playing the team events was really fun, we had a great relationship and it was a lot of fun playing as a team, doubles and then singles too, ”she said in a tweet.

“As a team we played very well. We lost to Japan in the quarterfinals, but it was a very close game. All 3 games were in the final. There is a player called Shibata Saki and Archana Kamath who lost in the final against her, then in the final match, even I lost in the deciding match. But Saki is a very good player, playing the decisive matches against her is very close. I also had a 2-0 lead. On the positive side, however, “Such performances gave the team confidence against the Asians. We beat Chinese Taipei and Thailand – overall it was a great experience. The fear factor is gone, “Sreeja, a Mima Ito fan, once pointed out.

While it was because of Archana’s brother that she took up table tennis, for Sreeja, it was her sister who inspired her to take up the sport professionally. It has been a long but eventful journey for the two players who are now on their way to becoming the next stars of Indian table tennis as they are bursting with talent. After spending hard hours training with coach Somnath Ghosh at his Academy in Hyderabad, Sreeja has grown steadily and has even partnered with Harmeet Desai in the Asians mixed doubles. Although the duo lost in the round of 16, Akula advanced to the round of 16 in her outing in the women’s singles.

Meanwhile, Archana Kamath, who trains with Bona Thomas John and Sagayaraj at the Padukone-Dravid Center for Sports Excellence, is already looking back on her streak of improvements with great gratitude. Helped in her own way by SAI-TOPS, Indian Oil, OGQ, TTFI and the Karnataka Table Tennis Association, Kamath’s future is bright as she makes her transition to the senior world. His parents and his brother, Abhinav were his pillars of support and Kamath, his hair cut short, candidly mentions that it is thanks to them that this growth was possible.

A game of margins, a game of mind

Just as the badminton curve swung with Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu more than a decade ago when commuters fearlessly started taking on Asians, table tennis is seeing the same boom with Sharath Kamal’s trio, Manika. Batra and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran showing them how to do the seemingly impossible. In table tennis, China has always ruled the roost and Indian players were automatically afraid to play their game against them – and more than the physicality of the match, the Asians could inflict a mental defeat on them long before the match was even played. does not snap into action. .

The outings to the WTT Star Contender Doha and the Asian Championships have succeeded in initiating the change of mindset in Archana and Sreeja who are no longer afraid to conquer, seeing their seniors face the best in the world. and even hold out on certain occasions. Archana recalled her difficult points against a dominant Miyu Nagasaki and mentioned, “Table tennis is as much a mental game as it is a physical game. It is very true and it applies to all sports, I think. During the tough points .. I was just enjoying and playing, ”Kamath said with a chuckle.

Inspiring Youth – Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

“Table tennis has really improved after the 2018 CWG when Manika Di won gold and even Sathiyan Bhaiyya and Sharath Bhaiyya are doing really well on the international circuit. Watching them gives young people inspiration. juniors are now exposed, playing internationally, tournaments, improving their rankings, going out to train and playing away league matches. Our seniors really help us a lot, when it comes to giving us advice on all pro tours. Overall it is improving a lot. By Paris 2024 I hope we get a medal, “Sreeja also says, a lot of hope in her voice.

“The fear factor has gone down. Also because our seniors have done so well in recent years and that gives us a lot of confidence. Now the junior players are doing well in a lot of international tournaments as well. I think India is a country that is really, really coming up in table tennis and it is a very good time for Indian table tennis “, Kamath also pairs up with Sreeja in this thought and considers a medal at the Paris 2024 Olympics as a realistic bet.

What is most encouraging to see is that table tennis in India has a lot of hands where the baton can be passed, unlike badminton and tennis, where there is currently a dearth of international artists. Sreeja and Archana remain eager to learn and hungry for medals as they view the Paris Olympics cycle with a lot of positivity. The very fact that these young women were able to overcome their fears and unleash their true game is the biggest victory here.

For Sreeja it’s a busy schedule as she has the national ranking of the northern zone in Panchkula, followed by WTT events in Tunisia and Slovenia in October. On the other hand, Archana, while happy, remains firmly in her quest to shine stronger and signs with a promise: “I want to improve a lot more and just take it game by game and keep giving my best- same.”

Indian table tennis is booming and how, as these young people break down Asian walls, one tournament at a time.

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