Asian Olympic table tennis qualifiers: Final chance for Indians to book Tokyo spots

Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra are favourites to qualify in singles. The duo eyes a mixed doubles berth too.

By Rahul Venkat

Indian table tennis stars Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra are expected to secure their berths for the Tokyo Olympics at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha, Qatar starting Thursday.

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Sutirtha Mukherjee will be the other two Indians vying for a Tokyo spot at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena.

Manika Batra is in good form. She reached the semi-finals at the World Singles Qualification Tournament, falling one step short of making the Tokyo cut.

Both Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan suffered shock losses to lower-ranked opponents in the first round of qualifying at the singles event, while Sutirtha Mukherjee exited in the second round.

However, the Indian table tennis players will expect to perform better at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament.

How the qualifying process works at Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament

The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament will offer Tokyo 2020 spots in the singles and mixed doubles categories.

Six players each in the men’s and women’s singles will qualify for Tokyo from this event.

Players will be divided into groups based on geographical regions – Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. Players from West Asia have already qualified for Tokyo, so they will not play in this Doha tournament.

Players will take part in a round-robin format in their respective groups, and the winner of each group will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The runner-up in each group will be on the reserves list to make the Tokyo Olympics.

With five group winners (including West Asia) being given an Olympic spot, the sixth and final spot will be given to the highest-ranked player in the reserves list, which will be decided according to the ITTF Olympic Qualification Ranking Lists in April.

In the mixed doubles, there is only one Tokyo spot up for grabs, which will be decided by the winner of a knockout tournament, with the runners-up being the reserve pair.

What to expect at Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament

World No. 32 Sharath Kamal and world No. 37 G Sathiyan are the highest-ranked men’s singles players in the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament.

The Indian table tennis duo will play in the South Asia group, which has only three players in total, the third being Pakistan’s Rameez Muhammad, who is ranked 690.

One of Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan is expected to confirm their Tokyo berth at the tournament, with the other expected to go through from the reserves list. However, both will be wary of avoiding an upset defeat against a lower-ranked opponent.

In the women’s singles, world No. 62 Manika Batra and world No. 95 Sutirtha Mukherjee are the second and fourth-best ranked players.

However, Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee are the only two entrants in the South Asia group, so it will be a straight shoot-out for a Tokyo Olympics berth.

In the mixed doubles, world no. 19 Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra are the only Indian duo in contention, where they are the second-best ranked pair.

Their main opponents for a Tokyo spot are expected to be world No. 8 South Koreans Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee.

Sangsu and Jihee are in good form, having reached the mixed doubles final at the WTT Star Contender Doha last week.

Indian table tennis schedule and India start times at Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament

All times are in Indian Standard Time (IST)

Thursday, March 18

South Asia Men’s Singles Round 1 - 12:30 PM IST

South Asia Men’s Singles Round 2 - 5:00 PM IST

Mixed Doubles Quarter-Final - 8:00 PM IST

South Asia Women’s Singles Final: Manika Batra vs Sutirtha Mukherjee - 10:00 PM IST

South Asia Men’s Singles Final - 10:40 PM IST

Friday, March 19

Mixed Doubles Semi-Final - 6:45 PM IST

Saturday, March 20

Mixed Doubles Final - 12:30 PM IST

Lead photo: ITTF