Birmingham Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold medallist Sreeja Akula, table tennis stalwart Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra qualified for the singles events of the Durban World Table Tennis Championships (WTTC) Finals in May, overcoming strong challenges in the Round-of-16 matches of the Asian WTTC Continental Stage 2023 tournament in Lusail on Tuesday.
Sreeja defeated world No. 21 Chen Szu-Yu of Chinese Taipei 4-3 (11-2, 5-11, 2-11, 5-11, 13-11, 11-9, 11-8) to qualify for the WTTC Finals, scheduled to commence on May 20, while world No. 47 Sharath Kamal overcame Iran’s Ahmadian Amin 13-11, 11-3, 10-12, 11-7, 11-6 to book a place in the showpiece event.
Manika Batra, the top-ranked Indian in the world at 35, thumped Zhu Chengzhu of Hong Kong 13-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-8 in the pre-quarterfinals to seal her spot.
Manika and G. Sathiyan also sealed their place in the mixed doubles event of the WTTC Finals with the No. 5 ranked pair in the world beating Hiroto Shinozuka and Miyuu of Japan 11-9, 12-10, 11-7, 5-11, 11-7 in the pre-quarters.
The pair of Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal also made the WTTC Finals grade, beating Qatar’s Mohammed Abdulwahab and Khalil Al-Mohannandi 11-5, 11-0, 11-9, 11-8 in the men’s doubles positions matches.
The Indian duo had earlier played a marathon match against the top Chinese pair of Ma Long and Yuan Licen before squandering a 3-1 lead to lose 11-4, 12-10, 5-11, 15-13, 7-11, 2-11, 5-11 in the Round of 16 on Monday night. However, they sealed their qualification spot on Tuesday following their win against the Qatari pair.
Sreeja, ranked 72 in the world, seemed down and out when she trailed 1-3 against Chen Szu-Yu, but the Indian’s confidence soared after she won the fifth game 13-11. It was a tricky game, and the Hyderabad player fought intensely to take a big step before shutting out her Chinese-Taipei opponent in the last two games.
G. Sathiyan failed to make the grade in singles for the WTTC Finals, but he can still qualify based on his world ranking. The world No. 39 Indian will have to wait for the announcement.
The women’s doubles pair of Reeth Rishya and Sreeja beat Singapore’s Goi Rui Xuan and Wong Xin Ru 11-6, 12-10, 13-11, 11-7 to secure one of the last-four slots in the category for the WTTC Finals. However, Reeth’s place is still doubtful as she has failed to seal a singles spot.
Manika and Archana Kamath have a better chance of making the cut due to their world rankings.
As per the WTTC Finals format, the Asian WTTC Continental Stage 2023 tournament offers 25 slots in men’s singles, 28 in women’s singles, 14 berths in men’s doubles, 12 in women’s doubles, and eight in mixed doubles. However, only four men and women entries per country are allowed in the WTTC Finals.
In singles, players who make it to the Round of 16 qualify directly, while the remaining slots are filled via the positions knockout matches.
In doubles, however, only those who reach the quarterfinals qualify, while the rest qualify through the other knockout rounds.