(MENAFN- IANS) By Bhavya Chand
New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) Over the past few years, table tennis has been gaining significant popularity in India, with players achieving great rankings.
In recent years, India's women paddlers have been making headlines with their impressive achievements, both nationally and internationally.
Leading the pack is Manika Batra, who has gone to become the face of Indian table tennis. She recently made headlines by becoming the first Indian woman paddler to win a bronze and the only second Indian to win a medal at the Asian Cup, ending the 22-year-old medal drought in November last year.
The 27-year-old registered famous wins against top-class players enroute her historic bronze medal win at the continental event. She stunned World No. 7 Chen Xingtong in the nail-biting round of 16 match, followed by a 4-3 win over World No. 23 Chen Szu-Yu in the quarterfinal.
In the bronze medal playoff, India's top ranked paddler defeated the 2021 World Cup bronze medallist Hina Hayata of Japan to clinch the historic medal.
Before Manika, former men's singles player Chetan Baboor was the only Indian paddler to win a medal at the Asian Cup, winning the bronze in 1997 and a silver in 2000.
Manika first rose to fame at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, when she bagged four medals, two of them gold. She also scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to win a singles gold in the sport at the CWG.
The Delhi-based paddler, who marked her Olympics debut at the age of 21 at the 2018 Rio Games, has many firsts to her name. During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021 owing to the Covid pandemic, she became the first Indian paddler to reach the third round in singles at the Olympics.
Post Tokyo, Manika made further history when she, along with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, became the first Indian pair to win a WTT event after clinching the mixed doubles title at the WTT Contender in Budapest, Hungary, in 2021.
The star paddler also became the first Indian to break into the top 5 in doubles world rankings. While she achieved it by partnering with Archana Kamath in women's doubles in April 2022, she also achieved the same by pairing with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in mixed doubles in November 2022.
Another player who is showing signs of a bright future for Indian women's table tennis is Sreeja Akula. The Telangana-based paddler recently retained her women's singles national crown and also clinched the women's doubles title, partnering with Diya Chitale.
The 24-year-old caught the eyes of the table tennis fraternity in 2022, when she wore down veteran player Mouma Das 4-1 to win her maiden national crown, becoming the first woman from Telangana to achieve the feat.
She also made a name for herself with her startling performance to win the mixed doubles gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, partnering with the veteran Sharath Kamal.
Earlier this year in January, Sreeja made several heads turn when she beat World No. 21 Chen Szu-Yu of Chinese Taipei 4-3 in the Asian WTTC Continental Stage tournament to qualify for the singles events of the World Table Tennis Championships (WTTC) finals, starting May 20 in Durban.
Alongside, she will have the company of the top-ranked Indian in the world at 35, Manika, who thumped Zhu Chengzhu of Hong Kong in the pre-quarters to seal her spot.
In addition, Sreeja, along with her partner Reeth Rishya, also made the cut in the women's doubles event. Moreover, Manika and Archana, ranked seventh in the world, also have a good chance of making the cut based on their current world ranking.
Manika with her partner Sathiyan Gnanasekaran also sealed a place in the mixed doubles event of the WTTC.
Apart from Manika and Sreeja, several other talented paddlers like Sutirtha Mukherjee, Ayhika Mukherjee, Madhurika Patkar and Archana Kamath are also making significant strides in the game.
These women's achievements are not just a testament to their individual talent and dedication, but also reflect the changing attitude towards women's sports in India. The success of these players has inspired young girls to take up sports and chase their dreams.