PANAJI: Indian Table Tennis great Achanta Sharath Kamal became the first Indian paddler to book a spot at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games after he defeated Pakistani opponent Muhammad Rameez in the second men’s singles round-robin match in the South Asia group at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha on Thursday, according to a press release issued from Mumbai.

The veteran suffered an initial defeat against fellow countryman Gnansekaran Sathiyan 9-11, 13-15, 11-5, 11-7, 12-10, 9-11, 8-11 in the opening match of the group; however looked in complete control against Pakistani Muhammad Rameez as he took just over 22 minutes to wrap up the game 11-4, 11-1, 11-5, 11-4 comfortably and seal the Tokyo berth with at least a second-place finish in the group, and by virtue of being the highest-ranked paddler in the event.

“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 No. 32 Sharath said from Doha after qualifying.

38-year-old Sharath had been in impressive form before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. With no matches happening, Sharath’s preparation for Tokyo was badly impacted. However, the Indian refused to give up and returned to the table after a break of almost a year at the recently concluded WTT Contender Doha and a last-16 finish in the two events as well as defeating World No 16 Patrick Franziska gave him enough confidence ahead of the Asian Qualifiers.

“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,” he added.

With a total of six quotas up for grabs for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – each in the men’s and women’s category from this final qualifying tournament – the group topper of five zones and the remaining one quota is awarded to the highest-ranked second-placed player in the event. Sharath being the top-ranked No. 2 player in the group, secured the Olympic berth under the Asian quota.

Looking to secure double qualification, Sharath also cruised into the semi-finals in the mixed doubles semi-finals 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, who 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.

Sathiyan too is now just one win away from joining Sharath in qualifying for the Tokyo Games as he takes on Rameez in the final round-robin South Asian group game later tonight. Other Indians in action tonight will be Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee as they will play an all-Indian women’s singles South Asia group match and the winner will grab a place in the Tokyo Olympics.


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