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Ayhika, Sreeja do the unthinkable; scare China by beating World No 1 and 2

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Indian table tennis player Ayhika Mukherjee beats world number 1 chinese player at World TT Championship 2024. Photo: X

Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula stunned the world’s top two players, Sun Yingsha and Wang Yidi, in their respective singles matches to rattle the mighty China before the Indian women’s table tennis team narrowly fell short in the World Team Championships here on Friday.

Ranked a lowly 155, Mukherjee played the match of her life to pull off a stunning 12-10 2-11 13-11 11-6 win over world number one Sun in the opening singles of the group stage contest.

It was the first ever loss for Sun at the team event of World Championships, summing up the enormity of Ayhika’s achievement.

The unexpected win provided a massive boost to Sreeja, who made the day even more memorable for Indian table tennis by blanking world number 2 Wang Yidi in straight games 11-7 11-9 13-11 in the third singles.

However, star player Manika Batra losing both her singles and Ayhika going down in the fifth and deciding singles meant India lost the rubber 2-3. Nonetheless, it was a red letter day for the game in India with Ayhika and Sreeja doing the unthinkable.

“I really feel great to beat Sun Yingsha. Today was my day, she was doing great and I did very well. I was confident and I just told myself that I should enjoy the match,” said Ayhika, who used her anti spin rubber brilliantly to down the multiple time Olympic and World Championship medallist.

The 26-year-old from Naihati in West Bengal trailed multiple times in the match but found a way to comeback.

She was down 7-10 in the first game but made it 10-10 with a cross court forehand. Sun netted a forehand for 11-10 and the Indian came up with a down the line backhand to pocket the first game.

The Chinese took a 6-0 lead in the second game before going on to level the contest.

Ayhika trailed 5-9 in the third game before reeling five straight points to turn the tables on Sun. Such was Sun’s state of mind that she opted for a timeout on 8-9.

While Ayhika’s main weapon throughout the battle was her backhand down the line but she was also not afraid to attack from the forehand.

A couple of forehand attacks got her to 10-9 before she made room for a down the line winner towards Sun’s left to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

A rare service error from the Chinese gave Ayhika a 7-6 lead in the fourth game before the Indian made it 10-6 for four match points. She converted the very first one with a cross court forehand winner.

Another highlight of the group stage contest was Sreeja’s peerless performance against world number 2 Wang Yidi. The 49-th ranked Indian, who uses long pimples like Manika, blanked Wang for the biggest win of her career.

“It was surely the biggest win of my career. I have always wanted to face Wang and finally got to play her today. Ayhika’s win gave me a lot of confidence and I was able to put initial pressure on Wang. My backhand worked well and what helped me equally was the consistency of my forehand.

“The win gives me the confidence that I can beat anyone on my day but our main goal here to is to qualify for the quarterfinals (which ensures Olympic qualification),” Sreeja told PTI.

However, India’s top-ranked player Manika disappointed losing both her matches to world number four Wang Manyu (3-11 8-11 15-13 7-11) and Sun (3-11 6-11 13-11 9-11).

With the tie locked at 2-2, the 26-year-old Ayhika was unable to recreate the magic of her opening match and went down in straight games to Manyu 9-11 11-13 6-11.

First Published: Feb 16 2024 | 5:37 PM IST

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