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After a mixed 2019 bag, keeping fingers crossed for 2020

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IF the Indian table tennis had touched its peak in 2018, it was a mixed bag of emotions during 2019 with some hits and misses. The year began with our senior paddlers A. Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan and Manika Batra bettering their world rankings and juniors complimenting them, showing a marked improvement.

 

Sathiyan was a revelation during the year—he reached his career-best No. 24 in October—with the best ever world rankings by an Indian following his sixth-place finish in Asia Cup at Yokohama and bagged a men singles bronze in the ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open at Muscat. However, his qualification for the World Cup at Chengdu was the icing on the cake despite his loss in the pre-quarterfinals to German Timo Boll.

 

In comparison, Sharath and Manika lacked the zeal Sathiyan had shown throughout. Sharath’s up-and-down career graph could be attributed to his age, but Manika’s is unexplainable. Except for the Hungarian Open quarterfinals—it took her rankings to No. 47, the best thus far by an Indian woman—she hasn’t done anything noticeable. Her appearance in the Institutional Championships—the only domestic event she competed in—did fetch the title this season.

 

Nevertheless, we are banking heavily on Sathiyan and Sharath to help India earn an Olympic berth in men’s team event. With the Indian team ranked at No. 8 in the world, it’s very much in the realm of possibility. However, a clear picture will emerge by the third week of January.

 

Archana Kamath, who had a fine run at the ITTF Challenge Oman Open came had to settle for a silver medal when she lost the Under-21 women singles final to top-seeded Japanese Satsuki Odo. Incidentally, this was the only worthy performance from the Indian since winning the national crown at Cuttack in January.

 

Similarly, Manav Thakkar, too had a low-profile year despite doing well at home. However, he ended the year with a title at Markham, Canada, when he became the first Indian paddler since 2017 to win an Under-21 crown on ITTF Challenge Series after it became a separate entity. Earlier, when the event was an integral part of the ITTF World Tour, Soumyajit Ghosh (Chile, 2011), Harmeet (Brazil) and Sathiyan (Egypt) had won in 2012.

 

Apart from Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai proved his worth when he won the first major title—Indonesian Open—beating compatriot Anthony Amalraj. In fact, Harmeet has had a very fruitful 2019 as he anchored India’s title win at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Cuttack in July as did their women counterpart. India also had the best-ever showing by sweeping gold in both men and women singles as well.

 

Just before that, the Indian men’s team finished fifth, its best ever results, after beating Hong Kong 3-1 in the Asian Championships at Yogyakarta. They also won gold in the 1st Division when they blanked out Iran 3-0. Remarkably, Sathiyan did not lose a single game during the entire championships! But he and Sharath missed the doubles bronze by a whisker at the Asian event. But the duo, which stretched the Chinese pair of Liang Jingkun and Lin Gaoyuan, lost the decider by the narrowest of margins.

 

India continued to be the Czar in the region as our paddlers made a clean sweep of medals—seven gold and five silver—in the Kathmandu SAF Games. During the Games, yours truly was unanimously elected as president of the South Asian Federation. Another feather in TTFI’s cap was added when our president Dushyant Chautala became the Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana.

 

As for the cadet and junior players, Payas Jain was in a league of his own when he grabbed the silver at the Asian Junior and Cadet Championships at Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), apart from helping the junior squad win silver. The individual silver also earned him a berth in the ITTF World Cadet Challenge where he represented the Asian squad that went on to win gold. Yashaswini Ghorphade also earned a berth in the Asian girls’ squad through her consistency and helped the team win bronze. Individually, the two Indians had reached the quarters but couldn’t make it to the medal rounds.

 

There were medals galore in all events that the junior paddlers had participated abroad, including the Thailand, Bahrain and Oman Open. However, in the ITTF World Juniors at Korat (Thailand), the Indians had it tough with China dominating the show.

 

On the domestic circuit, there have been several noticeable performances by young paddlers during the national ranking events and the two nationals held so far. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bengal and Gujarat proved their domination yet again in team events as did their paddlers in individual actions. As for other states, they have a lot of catching up to do, yet the overall performances of players have strengthened the base further. The Institutional Championships also threw up a new champion in Sanil Shetty, other than Manika, who claimed the title for the third occasion. There were other maiden titlists in the Junior and Youth Nationals as SFR Snehit, Payas Jain apart from Diya Chitale winning the double. The Masters event at Sonepat, too, kept the veterans hooked on to the sport as ever.

 

The year also saw two foreign experts joining Indian table tennis—Brett Clarke of Australia to man the junior squads and Yen Wei at the National Academy at Kolkata—to help young paddlers realize their potential. 

 

Indian para players also made the country proud, winning two silver and two bronze medals in the Costa Brava Spanish Open Table Tennis Championships.

 

India, for the first time, had two stalwarts in Vivek Kohli and yours truly getting elected as Chairman and Secretary, respectively, of the Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation with full backing of member-nations.

 

As in the past, India has been in the forefront with qualified BB umpires—two of them qualified recently—taking the total to 18. The annual coaches’ clinics, a regular feature with TTFI, were conducted during the year and the third edition of UTT yet again proved to be a great hit.

 

In what was a rarest of rare for table tennis, three connected with the sport were honoured for the successive year. On the National Sports Day (August 29, 2019), President Ram Nath Kovind presented Harmeet Desai with the Arjuna Award, while Coaches Sandeep Gupta and the Arup Basak received the Dronocharya and Dhyan Chand Awards, respectively, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In the previous year, G. Sathiyan and Manika Batra had received the Arjuna awards while A. Srinivasa Rao was feted with the Dronacharya, apart from A. Sharath Kamal getting the Padma Shri.

 

If we take into consideration most of the positives in 2019 to build on the future, a few negatives like the passing away of two stalwarts—coaches Bhawani Mukherji, the first Dronacharya award recipient, and Tapan Bose—will be felt. The two had done yeoman service to the sport and the void will be difficult to fill. 

 

The New Year also happens to be the Olympic year. And we, like millions of Indians, hope that our men’s team does something remarkable.
Keeping my fingers crossed!

 

 

 

M.P. Singh
Secretary General

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