In a first of its kind in Indian table tennis, two juniors — Soumyajit Ghosh and Ankita Das – have qualified for the Olympic Games.
In contrast, the far more seasoned campaigners like Sharath Kamal, National champion A. Amalraj, ladies National champion Poulomi Ghatak and K. Shamini will now have to fight it out for the two spots, in each section, in the final qualifying tournament in Doha next month ahead of the Olympic Games in London in July-August.
In the Asian qualifiers at Hong Kong, Soumyajit and Ankita booked the berth available for the South Asian countries after all the Indians fell out of contention for the seven continental berths. Ghosh defeated Amalraj 12-10, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7 in the deciding match to qualify.
In the ladies' section, by virtue of finishing third in their respective groups, Ankita and Shamini clashed to decide the qualifying spot for the South Asia Zone.
Ankita won 8-11, 11-4, 16-14, 4-11, 11-9, 12-14, 11-8. Earlier, Poulomi fell back after being fourth in her group.
Coming back to the men's section, before losing to Ghosh, Amalraj dashed the hopes of tired Sharath Kamal 9-11, 14-12, 11-13, 14-12, 4-11, 11-9, 11-3. This was Amalraj's third victory over Sharath in four meetings this season. Amalraj won the National inter-institutional and National titles at Sharath's expense before losing the final of the Petroleum inter-unit meet.
When the battles for seven continental berths were fought, Sharath was the closest to making the grade. However, Sharath ran into World No. 1 Ma Long and lost in straight games. In fact, Long had surprisingly lost to the reigning World junior champion Japan's Koki Niwa and then won through the battle of losers to push Sharath down.
Thereafter, Korea's Kim Song Nam avenged the loss suffered in the first round by beating Sharath 10-12, 11-9, 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 11-4.
Chinese Taipie's Wu Chih-Chi inflicted a 11-9, 11-9, 11-7, 2-11, 11-8 defeat to send Sharath to the South Asian qualifiers where Amalraj filled his cup of woes.
Amalraj defeated Vietnam's Tran Tuan Quynh in the first round but was disqualified the following day after the Racquet Control authorities found the thickness of his racquet was 4.27mm (against the permissible limit of 4.04mm).
Mercifully, Amalraj was allowed to continue in the competition, using a different racquet. As it turned out, he went on to defeat Tran Tuan Quynh when they met again.
The Tennis Table Federation of India's Secretary-General Dhanraj Choudhary was delighted with the qualification of Ghosh and Ankita but felt sad for the way Sharath missed the qualifying spot after getting so close.
“Had he not run into Ma Long, Sharath could have made it by beating a lesser player. Thereafter, he lost some tough matches and with them, some self-belief as well. But I am sure, he will make the grade at Doha next month. With most of the leading players having already qualified, I can expect Sharath to qualify and play his third successive Olympics.”
Special Correspondent from Chennai adds:
Soumyajit Ghosh, after making the grade, said from Hong Kong: “It feels great. In fact, I am lucky to have qualified in a complicated and hectic (he played 10 games overall) draw system.
“Beating Amalraj in seven games gave me a lifeline. Then I defeated a player from Vietnam (he retired after two games) and then defeated Amalraj again 4-0 in the final round to qualify.
“I didn't expect to qualify for the London Games. I am really excited to be playing in my first Olympics”.
Keywords: London Olympics