Olympic countdown: Manika-Sharath Kamal contenders in mixed doubles TT

India have been fielding at least two paddlers in every edition since 1988 when table-tennis made its debut at the Olympic Games. But with superpower China dominating proceedings, there has been no scope for players from other countries to win medals. China have won 28 of the 32 gold medals that have been awarded in Olympics so far.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has thus changed the format and rules — allowing a country maximum of two qualifying spots in each discipline.

Since Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the men’s and women’s doubles have been replaced by men’s and women’s team competitions. Thus in Tokyo, competition will be held in singles and team events in both men’s and women’ sections. There is also a mixed doubles event.

Four Indian players have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after the team lost in the final round of the Asian qualification tournament.

In Tokyo, India will have seasoned A Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan in men’s singles while Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee will compete in women’s singles. Sharath and Manika have qualified for mixed doubles event and are medal contenders.

Sharath Kamal, 39, has will be participating in his fourth Olympics while Manika will play in her second. Sharath Kamal first competed in Athens Olympics in 2004.

Though the Indian paddlers have done well in Commonwealth and Asian Games in recent times — Manika won women’s singles gold medal at Gold Coast CWG in 2018 while she and Sharath Kamal bagged a bronze in mixed doubles event at the Jakarta Asian Games — India have a chance to win medal only in mixed doubles. That too if the draw and some results favour them. Sharath Kamal and Manika were ranked 20th in July 2021 and are hoping to do better.

In his three appearances so far, Sharath Kamal has cleared the preliminary round twice but failed to repeat the feat in the 2016 Rio Olympics.