Medals unlikely but history beckons

The mixed doubles pairing of Sharath and Manika is India’s best bet

History is in the making. Even if India’s paddlers don’t earn a first Olympic medal in what has been conventionally considered a “lesser sport” by some in the Indian sports ecosystem, Tokyo 2020 will still be a historic occasion for the country’s table tennis fraternity.

Sharath’s distinction

While veteran A. Sharath Kamal will become the first Indian paddler to feature in four Olympics, Manika Batra will be India’s first female paddler to make a second successive appearance in the quadrennial extravaganza.

The two will also hope to pull off a miracle in the mixed doubles and make their historic appearance even more significant next week. In an event that has been introduced at the Olympics for the first time, the pair of Sharath and Manika will be India’s lone medal hope, albeit remote, in Tokyo.

The duo gave India its first table tennis medal at the Asian Games in 2018 and ensured it wasn’t a fluke by qualifying for the Olympics in style.

Interesting

In a draw of the top-16 pairs in the world, it will be interesting to see if the pair can cause three upsets in-a-row. When it comes to singles, hoping for a medal might be a bridge too far for all four paddlers. It will be an excellent achievement if either Sharath or G. Sathiyan make it to the round of 16.

Manika, too, has admitted that her target is to beat at least one higher-ranked player in singles. Least is expected of Sutirtha Mukherjee on her Olympic debut.

Stepping stone

While Sharath, 39, will in all likelihood feature in his last Olympics, Manika and Sathiyan are treating Tokyo as a stepping stone towards their primary goal in 2024.

However, if Sharath and Manika can pull off a coup, the duo will ensure Indian table tennis is elevated in stature and gets its due as being much more than just a recreational sport.

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