Feature: India To Become World Table Tennis Power?

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra have become big players on the world stage for India (Photo: ITTF)

Indian table tennis is on the rise, a statement which will be welcomed by table tennis fans across the world. 

China, Japan, Korea Republic and Germany are some of the leading countries in the sport but could we be about to witness a new player on the international stage in the form of India?

If you had asked me that question in the summer of 2016 I probably would have responded with a quick and simple “No” – Four competitors represented India in the two table tennis singles events at the 2016 Olympic Games: Sharath Kamal Achanta, Soumyajit Ghosh, Mouma Das and Manika Batra, all four of them were eliminated earlier than expected.

The outcome was extremely disappointing for the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and as a result action was taken with 2010 Commonwealth Games coach Massimo Costantini returning to the role of Head Coach in August of 2016 and it has been nothing short of a monumental success for India’s table tennis set up ever since.

Massimo Costantini has played a major role in India’s table tennis development (Photo: ITTF)

Not long after came the moment which arguably kick-started India’s rise in the sport as the ITTF World Tour visited New Delhi in February 2017 for the first time after a gap of seven years. The event proved to be a massive success, not only for the organising committee but also for India’s star players who used the platform as a major stepping stone on their way to becoming regular participants on the World Tour.

Then in June of that year came the very first edition of Ultimate Table Tennis, a league established to help grow the sport in India and also increase the exposure of the country’s players against opposition from around the globe. The competition went down so well that a second season has been confirmed to take place in 2018.

Collectively, a vast number of India’s table tennis players have improved but there have also been a couple of names which have stood out above the rest in recent times, those notably of Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra.

Sharath Kamal Achanta and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran are the two leading names for the Indian men’s team (Photo: ITTF)

For years it has been Sharath Kamal Achanta who has, it’s fair to say, been the leading name of Indian table tennis, especially in the men’s game but title wins from ITTF World Tour and ITTF Challenge Series events have propelled Sathiyan Gnanasekaran up the world rankings table and is, as of April 2018, India’s highest ranked male player at senior level.

Manika Batra has also impressed with a host of strong performances and in partnership with Mouma Das led India to to a quarter-finals finish in the Women’s Doubles contest at the 2017 World Championships, a first for an all-Indian pairing. However, it was her outing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games which really put her in the spotlight.

Competing for the very first time, Manika Batra defied the odds with victories over the likes of Singapore’s Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu to claim the gold medal in the Women’s Singles competition, another first for India and also played an integral part in India’s title winning campaign in the Women’s Team draw.

Top step of the podium for Manika Batra on Commonwealth Games debut (Photo: ITTF)

India also came away with a third gold medal via the Men’s Team event with further medals coming from the three doubles categories leading to a total of eight table tennis medals for India.

The next generation of Indian table tennis stars is also something worth highlighting with the likes of Manav Vikash Thakkar and Archana Girish Kamath both standing out at Under 18 level and more talented players also showing great promise at Under 15 level.

There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the future of Indian table tennis, whether it be the impressive rise of the likes of Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra, the success of the 2018 Commonwealth Games or the exciting young generation of players coming through. Time will tell whether or not India can go on to challenge at the very top of the sport, but for now we can at the very least be very excited by the progress of the country’s athletes.

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