Sreeja Akula defies all odds at World Table Tennis Contender

Ranked 150 in the world, the 23-year-old played three draining rounds. She beat Linda Bergstrom (WR 78) from Sweden in the first round, and then overcame Barbora Balazova (WR 53) of Slovakia before losing to Manika Batra (WR 60) in the women's singles quarterfinals.

Sreeja's personal coach, Somnath Ghosh (L), said Sreeja (R) aggravated her right shoulder injury after Senior National Championships in February 2021, and to play the way she did at Budapest was fantastic.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

What Sreeja Akula did as a qualifier in the WTT-Contender table tennis tournament in Budapest recently was quite a revelation. Ranked 150 in the world, the 23-year-old played three draining rounds. She beat Linda Bergstrom (WR 78) from Sweden in the first round, and then overcame Barbora Balazova (WR 53) of Slovakia before losing to Manika Batra (WR 60) in the women's singles quarterfinals.

In fact, in the last-eight clash against Manika, the 23-year-old was up by two games to one and leading 9-3. With just two points left to seal a place in the semifinals, Sreeja allowed the reigning National champion to make a comeback.

“Against Manika di, I should have won. She used her experience well. But on the whole, I am happy with the way I played in Budapest. This is my best show at a global event with such higher-ranked players. Beating Linda, a defender, against whom we don’t get to play regularly and overcoming Balazova was a huge morale-booster,” Sreeja told Sportstar on Saturday.

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Sreeja's personal coach, Somnath Ghosh, said Sreeja aggravated her right shoulder injury after Senior National Championships in February 2021, and to play the way she did in Budapest was fantastic. "Now she is alright. Her performance is certainly a big boost. But losing to Manika from that position was heartbreaking,” he said.

Sreeja Akula with personal coach Somnath Ghosh.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Ghosh said Sreeja, now sponsored by Lakshya Sports, has performed well in the last couple of years. “In 2019, she won two National ranking tournaments in Sonepat and Thane and reached the semifinals of the 2021 Senior Nationals, losing to Manika."

Ghosh expects Sreeja to be part of the Indian women's team for the Asian TT championships from September 28 to October 5 in Doha. “She is the sixth-ranked Indian in the world according to International Table Tennis Federation rankings. But she is No.1 in the domestic rankings. I believe the Table Tennis Federation of India will make the right call,” he said.

READ: Tokyo Paralympics 2020: All you need to know about the Indian contingent

Ghosh is contemplating using a different long-pimpled rubber called Qing, one which Sreeja hasn’t tried before. “Xiaoxin Yang of Monaco, who won the women's singles crown in Budapest, gave the rubber to us. But I will not use it immediately. Sreeja is very hardworking, and I know she can adapt to it,” he said.

Sreeja is a big admirer of Japan’s Mima Ito (WR 3) and Manika. “I like Mima’s style of play, and from India, I also love Manika di’s play,” she said.

Sreeja is currently in Olomouc for the Czech International Open, which begins on August 23. She is in the main draw and is eagerly waiting for the tournament to begin. “I want to go all-out,” she said.

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