How the Indian paddlers fared in Tokyo? Kamlesh Mehta dissects

Former India paddler Mehta, who is also a coach, analyses the performance of Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra, G. Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee in Tokyo.

Former India paddler Kamlesh Mehta feels the overall performance of the Indian table tennis contingent has been heartwarming in Tokyo.   -  FILE PHOTO/ SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Former India paddler Kamlesh Mehta has worn many hats - he is a coach, a selector and now the Director of Ultimate Table Tennis League. In an interaction with Sportstar, he dissected the performance of the Indian players at the Tokyo Olympics.

Excerpts:

On the mixed doubles team of Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra...

We have never had any achievement in mixed doubles, except for a medal in the 2018 Asian Games or a medal at the Commonwealth Games. India was three matches away from a bronze medal, and the performance of the Indian pair, to be frank, was below-par. I learnt that they did not have many practice sessions together. For a stage like the Olympics, you need to practice much more. 

On Sharath Kamal...

This being his fourth Olympics, I could see the eagerness in his eyes and his fitness levels were better, his body language was calm and composed. That can happen only when you have practised hard. Being a tall player, his recovery rate was not that great. He has good power, no doubt, but he was a tad slower to react to shots in Tokyo. He couldn’t use his backhand to a large extent.

READ| ‘Not today, not yet’: Sharath Kamal sets sights on 2024 Paris Olympics after strong show against Ma Long

The way he beat Tiago Apoliona was cool. Sharath has been a teammate of Tiago at the UTT as a part of the Chennai Lions team. They regularly play with each other, he understands Tiago’s game. 

The best part of Sharath’s game against Ma Long was that he forced one of the best players the sport has ever seen to take an early Time-out [in the third game]. A Chinese player taking a Time out, I had never seen (laughs). That was the success of Sharath. His performance was excellent and will inspire the next generation of players.

On G. Sathiyan...

This was his first Olympics. After a long break, every player will be keen to prove that he is very good. That pressure got to him, perhaps. He was a superior player against Hong Kong’s Lam Siu Lang. Sathiyan was dominating both in power and placements. It was surprising to me how he still lost. Sathiyan’s performance wasn’t bad. But in a few crucial phases, Lam played better.

READ| Tokyo 2020: What went wrong with table tennis? Manika Batra spells out

On Manika Batra...

She was the most experienced Indian women paddler playing in her second Olympics. After winning the 2021 Senior Nationals, her confidence was much higher.

Against Margaryta Pesotska of Ukraine in the second round, Manika played well. She played without a coach and after being down 2-5, she took a Time Out and went on to take the next nine points with a change in strategy; that was fantastic. She showed great fighting qualities.

Against Sofia Polcanova of Austria in the third round, Manika’s performance was certainly below-par. Of course, Sofia was faultless. In the four games, Sofia played to perfection and that put extra pressure on Manika.

Moreover, Manika’s forehand deserted her at crucial moments of the match. Finally, reaching the third round was excellent. 

On Sutirtha Mukherjee...

Having not done well in the 2021 Senior Nationals [she lost in the pre-quarterfinals], nothing great was expected of her. To be honest, Sutirtha doesn’t have the technique or any armour against choppers. Against her first-round opponent, Linda Bergstrom of Sweden, the way she changed her strategy wearing the opponent down was wonderful. All credit to her. Her second-round match against Yu Fu of Portugal was a non-starter from the beginning. Sutirtha’s forehand was not up to the mark. 

Overall, the performance of the Indian TT contingent was heartwarming. 

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