Indian table tennis contingent’s Olympic qualification campaign saw a fitting end on Saturday with A. Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra stunning the World No. 5 Korean pair of Sang-Su Lee and Jihee Jeon in Doha, Qatar, to seal the mixed doubles spot at Tokyo.
Sharath and Manika, who had qualified for singles earlier in the week, along with G. Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee, came back after losing the first two games against the Koreans to script a hard-fought 8-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-6, 13-11, 11-8 win in 56 minutes in the final of the mixed doubles event. Only the winning pair was to qualify for the Olympic.
“Yes, now we have proven that we are right up there among the top pairs in the world, but honestly, it was an extremely difficult task to overcome the Korean pair,” an elated Sharath told Sportstar after the match.
Sharath entered the match after a sleepless night, thanks to a nightmarish attempt to devise a gameplan against the left- and right-hand Korean pair. “I was watching their videos and just couldn’t figure out how to plan. In the morning, all I told Manika was to enter with an open mind and see how it goes.”
As a result, the Indian duo lost the opening two games quickly, but managed to stave off the challenge. Sharath was all praise for Manika, who managed to effectively block Lee’s forehand top-spins and drives at a lightning speed consistently. “It was incredible to see her getting the ball back in play despite Lee’s skills and that too in a manner that I could finish rallies off the next ball,” he said.
Manika credited “Sharath bhaiya” for “grooming her into confidence” and also underlined her training regime in Pune over the last few months.
“I had worked really hard in Pune. All of it could be brought to table and [it] helped me keep calm when we were down (0-2) and elevate my game for the occasion,” Manika said. “I am also happy to see two women as I had already qualified with the ranking! Some things are important for the country.”