Indian Table Tennis Sensations Stun Chinese Powerhouses at World Championships

Featured & Cover Indian Table Tennis Sensations Stun Chinese Powerhouses at World Championships

In the realm of table tennis, the Chinese dominance is a well-established narrative. They typically steamroll through competitions, leaving little room for doubt. The 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships exemplified this trend as the Chinese women’s team clinched the gold medal without dropping a single match. Sun Yingsha, in particular, boasted an impeccable record, having never been defeated in such events, triumphing in all her 26 singles matches in international team tournaments.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula emerged as the unlikely protagonists, scripting their own narratives of success. Their performances on Friday were nothing short of remarkable, marked by monumental victories in their singles careers.

The duo caused quite the stir by stunning the world’s top-ranked players. Ayhika Mukherjee overcame World No. 1 Sun Yingsha, while Sreeja Akula outplayed No. 2 Wang Yidi. Their stellar performances propelled India to a surprising 2-1 lead against China in the opening encounter of the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan. Although the Chinese powerhouses eventually managed to restore order and secure a 3-2 victory, their dominance was notably challenged, shaking them unlike in recent memory.

Remarkably, this wasn’t the first time Indian women had outshone their Chinese counterparts. Less than six months prior, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee had triumphed over Wang and Cheng Meng, securing the Asian Games doubles bronze—a feat previously deemednearly improbable in women’s table tennis.

Ayhika Mukherjee’s distinctive playing style, featuring the Dr. Neubauer Gorilla backhand rubber, played a pivotal role in unsettling the formidable Sun Yingsha. Her 3-1 victory (12-10, 2-11, 13-11, 11-6) provided India with a crucial early lead. However, India’s top-ranked player, Manika Batra, faltered against world No. 4 Wang Manyu, losing 1-3 (3-11, 8-11, 15-13, 6-11). It was then up to Sreeja Akula, newly ranked in the top 50, to elevate the team with a clinical 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 13-11) triumph over No. 2 Wang Yidi. Although Manika Batra managed to claim a game in her match against Sun Yingsha, she ultimately succumbed to a 1-3 defeat (3-11, 6-11, 13-11, 9-11). Meanwhile, Wang Manyu proved too formidable for Ayhika Mukherjee in the decider, securing a 3-0 victory (11-9, 13-11, 11-6).

While the defeat may have pinched India, especially considering the promising position they found themselves in, it also injected a renewed sense of belief for their upcoming group matches. Their next challenge against Hungary holds the potential to secure a quarter-final finish and possibly secure a Paris Olympics quota from the event.

Ayhika Mukherjee’s unorthodox playing style, coupled with her change of pace from the anti-spin backhand rubber, kept the top-ranked player, Sun Yingsha, on the back foot. Despite trailing in every game, Ayhikashowcased resilience, consistently finding a way to surge ahead. Notably, in the opening game, she fought back from deficits of 3-5 and 7-10, saving three game points and clinching victory with a rally dominated by her backhand strokes.

Sreeja Akula, on the other hand, relied on her formidable forehand to unsettle the world No. 2, Wang Yidi. Asserting dominance from the outset, Sreeja demonstrated her prowess with big forehands, seizing control of crucial points. Her composed demeanor and strategic use of backhand slices paved the way for a straight-game victory, a rare sight against a Chinese opponent.

Reflecting on her triumph, Ayhika Mukherjee expressed her elation, stating, “I really feel great beating Sun Yingsha. Today was my day… I was confident and I just told myself that I should enjoy the match.”

Indeed, the unexpected victories of Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula have not only challenged the established order but have also sparked hope and excitement for the future of Indian table tennis on the international stage.

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