Thursday, July 18, 2024

Asian Games: Brave and unique Ayhika, Sutirtha lose in semis, claim bronze in women’s doubles TT (Ld)

Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee are a unique pair in table tennis. They both play with different rubbers on their racquets, thus giving their opponents the taste of four rubbers and different variations in speed, spin and combination.

They are also ‘different’ table tennis players particularly Sutirtha– overweight and happy with how they are and playing in the international Circuit at a time when being lean and thin is the norm.

On Monday, Ayhika and Sutirthaput up a brave fight but went down to North Korea’s Suyong Cha and Sugyong Pak losing the second semifinal 3-4 to claim the bronze medal in women’s doubles table tennis at the Asian Games here on Monday.

The Indian pair was bidding to win a historic maiden silver medal in the Asian Games table tennis competition but were beaten in a thriller by the North Korean pair that came back after losing the first game. Ayhika and Sutirtha lost the match 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 8-11, 9-11, 11-5, 2-11 in a well-fought encounter.

They came back from 2-3 games down to level the match at three games each but could not close out the match.

“We tried our best today and gave it our all. But in the seventh and final we conceded a big lead and could not fight back,” said Ayhika after the match.

On winning their first medal in the Asian Games, Ayhika said, “It feels surreal. The competitions are very tough. We are from the same academy (in Kolkata) and know each other’s game so well. We tried our best but could not win.”.

Normally a defensive pair that relies on their blocks to unsettle their opponents, Ayhika and Sutirtha changed their tactics in the sixth game switching to an attacking tactic in which one of them blocked while the other attacked. It worked well as the Indians came back to level the match score at 3-3 games.

“As that tactic had worked in the previous game, we tried to implement it in the seventh game too. But they lost the first few points, came under pressure and went for winners in an attempt to claim points. They conceded a big lead and could not make a comeback,” said coach Mamta Prabhu.

The Indians, a unique pair in world table tennis that plays with different rubbers on all four surfaces on their racquets — Sutirtha has pimpled rubber on forehand side and normal on backhand while Ayhika uses pimpled on forehand andanti-spin on the other side. They troubled the North Koreans in the first few games before their opponents figured their game out.

The Indian pair, which won the women’s doubles title in a WTT Contender event this year, too early lead in the first game and won it easily. Though the Koreans fought back to win the second, Ayhika and Sutirtha again took the lead by winning the third game.

However, the North Korean pair, egged on by a partisan crowd of predominantly Chinese people, levelled the scores again, capitalising on an early lead in the fourth game. They surged ahead 4-8 and though the Indians fought back to level the scores 8-8 before the Koreans won the next three points to win the game.

Coach Mamta said she does not see any problem in players being a bit bulky. “Yes, being fit is absolutely necessary but then some players have a certain body type. Table tennis is also a game of skills, so if you are gifted and have the skills, I don’t see any problem. Sutirtha is very quick at the table and has very good hand-eye coordination,” she said.

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