Sutirtha and Ayhika Mukherjee fall in the semi-finals, but their miraculous bronze medal could usher in a golden age in Indian table tennis.
Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee won bronze in table tennis women’s doubles at the Asian Games in Hangzhou after losing in the semi-finals against North Korea.
Sutirtha and Ayhika Mukherjee’s historic run at the Asian Games in Hangzhou came to a close with a bronze medal. The Mukherjees, who became India’s first women’s doubles pair to secure an Asian Games medal by defeating world champions Chen Meng and Yidi Wang of China on Saturday, came perilously close to adding another glorious chapter on Monday. They fell just short of taking India to their first-ever final in any discipline of table tennis at the Asian Games, losing to Suyong Cha and Sugyong Pak of North Korea in a thrilling semi-final encounter. North Korea won the tense 7-game final 4-3 to go to the gold medal match. The Mukherjees won India’s third medal at the Games, following bronze medals for the men’s team and the mixed team of Manika Batra-Sharath Kamal in Jakarta in 2018.
Sutirtha and Ayhika, childhood friends, opened the semi-final on an aggressive note, grabbing a 4-0 lead in the first game, and despite the North Koreans winning two points, the Indian girls crushed their comeback aspirations by pulling away with a 7-2 lead. Pak and Cha, on the other hand, were not going down without a fight. They scored four points in a row to narrow the gap to two points. Under pressure, Ayhika and Sutirtha moved on offense and scored three crucial points to bring the game to a close. Pak and Cha saved one of the four game points, but the Mukherjees converted the next to win game one 11-7 and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
In the second game, the North Koreans staged a dramatic comeback, grabbing an early 3-1 lead. It was essentially a rematch of the previous round, but in favor of Pak and Cha. They took advantage of the Mukherjees’ wait-and-see policy, outnumbering the rallies. This pushed the Indian duo to adjust their plan and attack. This worked in the first game, but not the second. Korea evened things up with an 11-8 victory in the second game.
The Indian pair took an early 3-1 lead in the third game and never looked back. The Koreans fought back to tie the score at 6-6, but Sutirtha and Ayhika scored four consecutive points to create a clear 4-point lead, which proved to be enough for them to take a 2-1 lead in the match. The third game was won by them 11-7.
The match’s twists and turns were just getting started. It was now up to the Koreans to respond. They scored the opening three points of the sixth game. India, on the other hand, swiftly tied the score at 5-5. The game was tied at 8-all when India called a timeout. The break did not benefit India, as Cha and Pak won three of the following four points to take a 3-2 lead.
Ayhika and Sutirtha had not finished. In the sixth game, the girls from Naihati, approximately 70 kilometers from Kolkata in West Bengal, came out fire. They gained a 3-1 lead, then extended it to 6-1 and continued to dominate in what turned out to be the most one-sided game of the closely fought fight up until that point to level the semi-final.
The North Korean pair drew first blood in the decider and pulled away with a large enough lead to deny the Mukherjees any chance of a comeback. They finished the contest with an 11-2 victory.
Why is this an auspicious time for Indian table tennis?
“Asian Games TT medals are equivalent to Olympic medals, particularly for women.” What they accomplished today will be remembered,” said former India table tennis star Somoyadeep Roy, who instructs Ayhika and Sutirtha at his Kolkata academy.
India has reached to the quarterfinals and round of 16 stages of table tennis on numerous occasions, but defeating a Chinese opponent has always been a challenge. Not only for India, but China has such a hegemony in table tennis that every loss is considered an upset.
Sutirtha and Ayhika defeated a Chinese pair who had 12 world championship medals.
To put Ayhika and Sutirtha’s achievement in context, it’s worth noting that the pair were not regarded good enough to represent India in last year’s Commonwealth Games. Coming from there to beat the best on one of the largest stages in world sport was a watershed moment in Indian table tennis that might begin a golden period in the sport.