Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee fought valiantly but could not seal their Olympics spot just yet.
The Indian women’s table tennis team were knocked out in the pre-quarters of the ITTF World Team Qualification tournament after a going down fighting in a 2-3 loss against Romania in Gondomar, Portugal on Friday.
With a thrilling tie level at 2-2, it all hinged on the final game between India's Manika Batra and Romanian opponent Daniela Monteiro.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Batra was beaten by 3-1, giving the European champions a ticket through to Tokyo 2020.
The teams were toe-to-toe in the first game, often tied at points at various junctures before the Mukherjees crucially took the 12th point to take a lead.
They were leading 6-5 during the break in the second game but the Romanians hit back to go up 8-5. They eventually won the game after Sutirtha Mukherjee hit her return into the net to make it 1-1.
The Romanian pair made a few errors in the third game to give India a 9-5 and later a 10-7 lead before conceding the game with another fault.
However, they came back superbly in the next two games, putting constant pressure on the young Indians to take a hard-fought 1-0 lead in a tie that lasted almost an hour.
Several shots from Bernadette Szocs grazed the net and fell to Manika Batra’s side, which affected her momentum and the latter lost the first game. She was trailing initially in the second but came back admirably to take the lead and eventually the game, 12-10.
The next game continued to be competitive but the Commonwealth Games gold medallist won it when Bernadette Szcos hit her smash very wide. Manika Batra continued to impress in the fourth, taking a 5-3 lead when her opponent called for a time-out but did not let that affect her as she went on to win the tie and level things for India.
Ayhika Mukherjee faced Elizabeta Samara for the second time in the day but could not make amends for the doubles fixture as she lost 10-12, 11-5, 2-11, 7-11. The Indian did not allow her opponent to run away too far in the first game but lost 10-12. She continued that streak in the second and won it to raise hopes of taking a lead.
However, she was brought crashing down in the third game by Elizabeta Samara as the Romanian dominated to win 11-2 and used the momentum to prevail in what ultimately turned out to be the winning game.
Sutirtha Mukherjee tasted her first victory of the day when she pulled off a superb 8-11, 11-7, 11-9, 3-11, 11-4 win over Bernadette Szcos, who had earlier lost to Manika Batra.
Romania were within touching distance of making progress after Bernadette Szocs won the first game but Sutirtha Mukherjee recovered and used smashes very well to win the next two games.
The Indian lost the fourth one quite severely but came back in a brilliant fashion to dominate the last game and take the tie to a decider.
Manika Batra, up against the lower-ranked Daniela Monteiro, could not win the decider, losing 8-11, 4-11, 11-3, 2-11.
Had they won on Friday, the Indian women would have been assured of a spot in the team event at Tokyo 2020. However, all is not lost as they can still seal their place over the weekend in the playoffs, which will be played by the other losing teams in the round of 16.
India could be facing Ukraine, South Korea, the Netherlands, Hungary, Chinese Taipei and the losers among Spain/Austria and Hong Kong/Belarus.