India's second-highest ranked women's singles player Sutirtha Mukherjee booked a Tokyo Olympics spot with a 4-2 win over Manika Batra in the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha on Thursday.
The South Asia zone had both the Indian table tennis players featuring in the women's singles draw and the result was vastly more important for Sutirtha, since Manika will go through by virtue of her ranking among players entered into AOQT.
The players traded the first four games before Sutirtha pulled away, posting 11-5, 11-4 wins in the fifth and fifth games. Ranked 98 in the world, the 24-year old was part of India's historic women's team gold win at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Suspended in 2016 over alleged age fudging, Sutirtha worked her way back, winning her first Nationals the following year and made a huge leap in the rankings, from 502 in the world two years ago to finding herself inside the top 100 today.
Among the men, it was a largely assured affair from the start. G Sathiyan won both his matches, against fellow Indian Sharath Kamal and Pakistan's Muhammad Rameez to confirm his Olympic spot. At 32 in the world, Sharath is placed at the top of the rankings among the Asian pool players in the qualifying events, which should see him through to his fourth Olympic Games.
The vastly experienced Sharath notched a dominant win over Rameez, defeating him 11-4, 11-1, 11-5, 11-4 in a little over 22 minutes in the second men's singles round-robin match in the South Asia group.
Sharath had lost his opening match 9-11, 13-15, 11-5, 11-7, 12-10, 9-11, 8-11 to compatriot Sathiyan. The win over Rameez ensured a second-place finish for Sharath and it should be enough to secure a spot in the delayed Games, scheduled to begin in July.
One quota is awarded to the highest-ranked second-placed player in the event. Sharath being the top-ranked player in the group, will secure the berth under the Asian quota.
It will be Sharath Kamal's fourth appearance at the Olympic Games.
"It was a good match against Sathiyan but I made some errors and he capitalised on them to win the match. I was a bit nervous before playing against Rameez as I had never faced him before.
"But after the first few games I was confident that my strategy was working and I executed it well to maintain control," the world number 37 Sharath said.
The 38-year-old Sharath said qualifying for the Olympics was a big relief.
"A lot of things have happened since March 2020. I became the champion in Oman and was in good touch, was preparing to play the qualification match in Thailand in just two weeks and suddenly everything came to a standstill.
"I have achieved the best rankings of my career and it's a huge sigh of relief, especially the way this year has been. Though this will be my fourth Olympics, it will be my best Olympic Games." Looking to secure double qualification, Sharath also entered the semi-finals in the mixed doubles with Manika Batra after the pair defeated Mohammed Abdulwahhab and Maha Faramarzi of Qatar 11-6, 11-6, 11-2, 11-3 in the quarters.
The star Indian pair, which received a bye in the first round, will now take on Koen Pang Yew En and Ye Lin of Singapore in the last-four match on Friday.