Sathiyan Gnanasekaran was beaten in both his singles matches in the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification tournament in Gondomar at Portugal on Saturday as the Indian men’s team bowed out of the event after losing to lower-ranked Czech Republic.
The star of the women's team, Manika Batra also could not fire India to victory in their crucial tie against France.
The loss dashed India’s hopes of qualification for the table tennis team event as neither the men’s nor the women’s team managed to secure any of the nine tickets to Tokyo that were available at the tournament.
After Czech Republic’s doubles pairing of Tomas Polansky and Lubomir Jancarik had beaten their Indian counterparts Harmeet Desai and Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran struggled to produce his best in the event as well and was condemned to a defeat by Pavel Sirucek.
Kamal kept India’s bleak chances of qualification alive momentarily with a win in his singles match. However, a shock defeat for Sathiyan Gnanasekaran – India’s top ranked paddler – in his singles match against Tomas Polansky sealed the Indian men’s team fate.
Earlier, the Indian women’s table tennis team’s pursuit for a berth in Tokyo also ended in disappointment against France. Star paddler Manika Batra, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee fell short against France as the Europeans emerged as 3-2 victors.
With just two singles entries allowed from each country, India can still harbour qualification hopes in the singles and mixed doubles events when they participate in the April event in Thailand that guarantees singles qualification.
While qualification for the team event would have guaranteed a couple of slots in the singles event in Tokyo, the failure to do so means that Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Manika Batra and Achanta Sharath Kamal must free up the rest of their personal calendars and move their focus to the singles event berths that are still up for grabs.
Moreover, the appointment of a full-time foreign coach before the event in April will only boost their chances of qualification. The lack of a full-time coach has severely affected India’s table tennis results since Massimo Constantini's departure after the Asian Games 2018.
In Portugal, India had former national champion Soumyadeep Roy in-charge of proceedings as coach, but the players by and large were left to fend for themselves.
A full-time coach before the event in April will definitely help India’s table tennis contingent, which is under pressure and will want to give everything to qualify for Tokyo 2020.