Doha, March 20 (IANS) Indian pair of Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra confirmed their maiden mixed doubles qualification for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after they surprised the world No. 5 Korean pair of Sang-Su Lee and Jihee Jeon 4-2 in the finals of the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament on Saturday.
India are now certain to be represented in the men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles categories in table tennis at the Olympics that begins on July 23.
The most impressive part of this final encounter was the way the world No.18 pair of Sharath and Manika turned the game in their favour after starting the match 0-2 (11-8, 11-6) down against their higher-ranked Korean counterparts.
The Indian pair won six points in a row in the third game and scripted a slow but steady comeback.
“I can tell you this is nothing short of phenomenal. It is one of the biggest victories for Manika and me. I have been sleepless since 5 am in the morning and was under a lot of pressure as this was our only shot to qualify for the Olympics,” said an elated Sharath.
The reigning Asian Games bronze-medallist in the mixed team event added, “We started off with two losses but this victory against such top-ranked players will surely give us the confidence and belief of being strong medal contenders for the Tokyo Games.”
While the mixed team event is being introduced at the Olympics, the Indian duo had a 1-1 head-to-head count before this encounter. Sharath and Manika had defeated Lee and Jeon during the 2018 Asian Games before this.
The world No. 32 picked the fifth game as the turning point of the match which saw a neck-and-neck fight between both the pairs. The duo showed tremendous nerves to win the game 13-11 from a game point down.
Earlier on Thursday, all the four Indian paddlers Sharath, Manika, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee earned themselves singles qualification for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics; all of whom are in the top-100 world rankings.