Indian women lose to Taipei in World Team TT

As she walked back to her seated teammates, Diya Chitale threw up her towel and caught it. With a 2-1 lead in the third rubber to be won, the teenager knew she had lost a chance to get her team back into the game.

Diya lost 3-2 on Wednesday and the Indian women’s team 3-0 to Chinese Taipei in their World Team Table Tennis Championships Round of 16 tie in Chengdu, China. It ended the women’s campaign in which they recorded two clinical wins in the group stage and lost 3-2 to Germany to qualify for the knockouts.

India struggled against seventh-ranked Chinese Taipei. Things got even harder after Manika Batra was blown away in the opening match by the world No. 22, Chen Szu-Yu (7-11, 9-11, 3-11). A couple of long backhands at 9-9 in the second game proved costly for the India No 1.

That left Sreeja Akula with the task of hitting above her weight again. The 24-year-old had defeated three top-50 players in the group matches but was unable to repeat against 35th-ranked Cheng I-Ching, losing 8-11, 11-5, 6-11, 9-11. Her forehands spoke a lot in the second game, but then fell silent.

Against world number 71 Liu Hsing-Yin, young Diya raised hopes of a comeback before the veteran Hsing-Yin called it quits. After losing the first game, Diya started leading the rallies, shaking, spinning and jumping from far behind the table to draw winners. Taking the second game 11-9, Diya raced to a 7-2 lead in the third before Hsing-Yin crawled back. At 9-9, some solid runs, rounded off by a neat backhand, did it for Diya.

After Hsing-Yin tied it in the fourth game, Diya scored a backhand and missed a forehand early in the decision, with her body language communicating signs of frustration. From 3-6, she made it 6-6 after winning a long forehand struggle, but a few shots sailing longhand saw Hsing-Yin win the match and give Chinese Taipei a spot in the quarterfinals.

From finishing 17th in the previous edition in 2018 to qualifying for the knockouts in Chengdu, it was a significant improvement in the young women’s team’s performance. Running close to Germany in the first group match was the highlight, victories by Sreeja and Diya in it stood out.

After two disappointing defeats to the Germans, Manika recovered in the next two duels, but couldn’t really inspire her troops when it mattered most. Sreeja’s massive murder show—she won four of her six matches—was the biggest takeaway. If she manages to maintain this level, she can quickly make strides in the international circuit. Ditto with 19-year-old Diya (two wins and defeats each), who showed a glimpse of her potential, and why she was chosen as the third member of the team in her young senior career.

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