Sreeja, Nikhat bask in record title glory

Sreeja Akula and Nikhat Banu became the first players to win a Senior national table tennis title in any category from Telangana.

Sreeja Akula (left) with Nikhat Banu after winning the doubles title in the Senior National Table Tennis Championships in Cuttack.   -  Special Arrangement

Akula Sreeja, one of the best young table tennis in India, was crying almost for the whole day, by her own confession, after losing in the women’s singles pre-quarterfinal in the just-concluded Senior Nationals in Cuttack.

But, thanks to the support of her coach Somnath Gosh and parents, the 20-year-old Sreeja recovered just in time to partner with her senior, Nikhat Banu, to script history later — becoming the first players to win a Senior national table tennis title in any category from Telangana.

For the record, Arjuna Awardee Mir Khasim Ali continues to be the only senior national singles champion from both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana!

“It was tough because we had no scope to train together as Nikhat akka stays in Chennai and I am based in Hyderabad. And, we are partnering only for the second time ever in the Senior Nationals. Glad that we could pull it off in style,” says Sreeja.

Related: Sharath Kamal reflects on his record ninth national title

“Yes, the disappointment of singles loss in the pre-quarterfinal was too huge for me after doing so well in the Inter-Zonals,” says the young Reserve Bank of India employee who trains at MLR Table Tennis Academy near here.

“Definitely, this is a huge morale-booster ahead of the Khelo Games and more importantly for the Goa National Games,” says Sreeja, who also won the mixed doubles title partnering Raj Mondal.

“Well, generally there will be no regular doubles training before any big event as we train at different places. Definitely, Nikhat being a senior did help me a lot,” says the young paddler.

On her singles career, Sreeja says that she needs to have more power, the ability not to withstand under pressure in long rallies and obviously to be more consistent.

For her part, 25-year-old Nikhat (also of RBI) feels the national title could not have come at a better time for her. “Yes, singles loss for both of us was terrible. So, these the wins which make you re-set the goals and chase them with all sincerity. The dream is to win the National women’s title and will surely work hard to realise that,” says the Chennai-based seasoned campaigner.

“Since RBI didn’t qualify for the Senior Nationals, we requested them to permit us to play for Telangana and we are glad that we gave something for our State Association to celebrate. And, I must also thank my coach Raman Sir (former national champion) with whom I have been training in Chennai for the last three years,” she concluded.

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