Indian paddlers never had it so good in Asian Table Tennis Championships and are poised to finish their best in team events for the first time.
On Wednesday, the men paddlers led by Sharath Kamal sailed past Iran 4-1 in the quarterfinals at Lusail Multipurpose Hall, Doha in Qatar on Wednesday evening.
On Friday, in the semifinals they will meet South Korea who defeated Hong Kong 3-1.
According to TT aficionados, India won several medals in the mid 1950s and 1960s including three gold medals won by Gool Nashikwala in the 1952 Singapore edition when she triumphed in singles, doubles and mixed doubles when Asian meet was held under the erstwhile TTFA.
Under the current dispensation of Asian TT Union, in the 1976 Pyongyang (North Korea) edition, Manjit Dua and Vilas Menon won a bronze in men’s doubles.
Meanwhile, Indian women also made it to the quarter-final but their joy was short-lived as Japan smashed their dream of making a historic semifinals entry by handing a 1-3 defeat.
In a late evening match, Sreeja Akula lost to Hitomi Sato 5-11, 3-11, 3-11 the opener while Archana Kamath did her best before going down fighting Saki Shibata 12-10, 7-11, 4-11, 12-10, 9-11 in 40 minutes. Tokyo Olympian Sutirtha Mukherjee, however, managed to reverse the trend by defeating Miyu Nagasaki 11-7, 11-8, 5-11, 7-11, 11-8 in 39 minutes. In the reverse singles, it was the case of slip and the lip, when Sreeja lost to Saki narrowly 11-8, 12-10, 2-11, 9-11, 8-11 in 37 minutes.
No stopping Sharath
In the last-eight match against Iran, Sharath, a veteran of three Olympics, gave India the much needed start by beating Nima Alamian who is half his age at 19 in 34 minutes but conceded one game at 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5. In the second tie, Tokyo Olympian G Sathiyam subdued elder Alamian, Noshad 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 11-6. However, Harmeet Desai failed to continue the momentum as he began with losing the first two games against Amir Hossein Hodaei in the third fixture. The national champion found parity winning the next two narrowly. In the decider Desai could not match the Iranian rival and surrendered under pressure 8-11, 7-11, 11-8, 14-12, 7-11 in 52 minutes.
Sharath, 38, returned to the table soon and made short work of southpaw and 20-year-old Noshad 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9 to give India a historic place in the last-four stage for the first time.
In the previous 2019 edition at Indonesia India were fifth. In the absence of defending champions China, Indians are expected to do better.
Women do well
Sleep deprived Indian women overcame Uzbekistan 3-0 in a group winners match to make it to the quarterfinals on Wednesday morning. A league match between Iran and Indonesia went to the wire taking maximum attention and time even as India’s second and final group match against Nepal to decide Group 1 leaders also got delayed on the opening night on Tuesday. India had defeated Jordan in the first group match on Tuesday morning.
Indians reached Doha for the biennial meet without their top star Manika Batra who was dropped after she failed to attend the mandatory national camp in Sonepat.
On Thursday, the women will meet Chinese Taipei for a place in the 5 to 8 places.
India 4 bt Iran 1(Sharath Kamal bt Nima Alamian 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5; G Sathiyan bt Noshad Alamiyan 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 11-6; Harmeet Desai lost to Amir Hossein Hodaei 8-11, 7-11, 11-8, 14-12, 7-11, Sharath bt Noshad 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9
India 1 lost to Japan 3 (Sreeja Akula lost to Hitomi Sato 5-11, 3-11, 3-11; Archana Girish Kamath lost to Saki Shibata 12-10, 7-11, 4-11, 12-10, 9-11; Sutirtha Mukherjee bt Miyu Nagasaki 11-7, 11-8, 5-11, 7-11, 11-8; Sreeja bt Saki 11-8, 12-10, 2-11, 9-11, 8-11)
Group Winners Match:
Uzbekistan 0 lost to India 3 (Markhabo Magdieva lost to Archana 2-11, 5-11, 4-11; Rozalina Khadjieva lost to Sutirtha 6-11, 7-11, 3-11; Sugdiyona Madalieva lost to Ayhika 8-11, 11-8, 10-12, 7-11).