Hong Kong: India’s table tennis ace Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das booked their tickets to Rio Olympics after winning their respective final rounds in Stage 2 of the Asia Olympic Qualification tournament.
Brushing aside his four-year-old London disappointment and the third-place finish in the South Asia Zone qualifiers just a couple of days ago, Sharath fought his way back in the decisive final round contest in Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium to grab the second men’s slot on Saturday.
At the Asian Olympic Games Qualification tournament’s Stage 2 men’s singles event, the Indian defeated Iran’s Noshad Alamiyan 4-3 (12-14, 11-6, 3-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6).
Mouma, meanwhile, despite losing her final round in the morning to North Korea’s Ri Myong Sun in straight games (3-11, 9-11, 10-12, 5-11), had her chance in the losers’ final. And, as expected, the 32-year-old did not disappoint.
Mouma defeated Rimma Gufranova of Uzbekistan 4-1 (11-13, 11-9, 13-11, 11-7, 12-10) to book one of the two Rio Games slots.
For Mouma, it will be her second Olympics as she had first competed in the singles event at Athens in 2004 along with Sharath.
Earlier, Soumyajit Ghosh and Manika Batra had qualified for the Rio Games, to be held in August.
A maximum of two players per National Olympic Committee are allowed to compete in both the singles event at the Games. And, for the first time, India will be represented by a full four-member squad at Rio de Janeiro.
34-year-old Sharath said he knew it was going to be a testing contest against the 25-year-old Alamiyan.
“When I was trailing 1-3, my mind was all about the next match that I will have to play if I lose this one. If I had lost, I would have to play against Jiang Tianyi (of China) and I’m not fit because of my back injury,” admitted Sharath.
Sharath’s combination drives – his backhand worked very well for him today even as the Iranian wilted under pressure.
“My back is totally plastered and I’m in pain everywhere, I couldn’t afford to lose and play one more match. I seemed to have lost my motivation but in the fifth game I made a good start and the tide changed, I started to dominate the match.
“In the first game, I was up 8-5 and lost 14-12. That put more pressure on me. In the fourth, I was 6-2 up and lost eight points in a row. Those games made a big difference and if I had won them, it would have been an easier match. But, of course, if it was easy it wouldn’t have been fun,” he said.