Updated: July 27, 2021 8:02:55 am
Achanta Sharath Kamal is keeping the Indian flag flying in the Tokyo Olympic Games after his compatriots Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee left the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, the table tennis venue, on Monday.
Sharath, the top Indian paddler beat an in-form Tiago Apolonia from Portugal 2-11, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9 to enter the third round of the men’s singles event.
Soon Sutirtha Mukherjee, in the women’s second round, took the exit door first when World No. 55 Fu Yu of Portugal took her out 3-11, 3-11, 5-11, 5-11 in 22 minutes. The Chinese born Fu Yu, 42, is one of the oldest competitors and is representing her adopted country for the second time after competing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. For the 25-year-old Indian it was TT lessons from the veteran Fu Yu.
Later, Manika, who had a dream run in the second round against Ukraine’s Margaryta Pesotska on Sunday, went down 8-11, 2-11, 5-11, 7-11 to World No. 17 and 10th seeded Sofia Polcanova of Austria.
On Saturday another hopeful G Sathiyan exited after his first-round loss to lower-ranked Lam Siu Hang of Hong Kong.
Sharath, 39, playing in his fourth Olympics pulled himself up in the nick of time against Tiago after conceding the first. The Indian ranked No. 32 in the World and seeded 20th here served better and hitting deceptive forehands.
In the third round on Tuesday morning (8.30 am IST), the nine-time national champion will be up against the defending champion and second-seed Ma Long, 32, of China. The rivals have met four times so far in the past 12 years – from 2007 to 2019. Ma Long holds a 4-0 record against Sharath: In 2007 Volkswagen Open in Chiba, Japan; in 2011PronTour Swedish Open; 2012 Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament, Hong Kong and 2019 ITTF Asian Cup, Yokohama in Japan.
The game’s all-time greats, Ma Long is the 2016 Rio Games champion and world No.1 for record five years and will be entering the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium for the first time to defend his coveted title.
“It will be a tough match against the reigning champion. But then it is the Chinese first match while Sharath is in good nick with two wins,” said Soumyadeep Roy, national TT coach who is also Sharath’s former teammate. “The first two games will be crucial. If Sharath can …, then Ma Long will be under pressure. We’re expecting a good start and it is important,” the national coach told indianexpress.com from Tokyo on Monday evening.
“We have a strategy and will stick to the plan. Let’s see how it works. We have nothing to lose,” Soumyadeep concluded.
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