Sutheerth Mukherjee and Ahika Mukherjee didn’t stand a chance in hell. Sports may be one of mankind’s great egalitarian enterprises, where everyone has a fighting chance when they enter the sporting arena, but table tennis, especially in China, is a different ball game.
In a country where TT may be the closest thing to religion, losing is not an option. Sample: Women’s doubles event held at Asian Games 13th edition. China has eight golds. Five of these times they have also won silver. It’s just what they are.
World No. 112 Sutirtha and no. 177 Ayahika was in the women’s doubles quarterfinals of the Hangzhou Asian Games against world no. 4 Wang Yi and the great Chen Meng, World No. 2 and multiple Olympic and World Championship gold medalists. Meng was part of the China team that won the women’s team event at this edition: winning gold without dropping a match.
No chance. So their coach told them: “Play Bindas!“Have fun, just play.
And they did. Boy, did they play?
The first game of their quarterfinal tie lasted just eight minutes and the Indians took it 11-5. The second was a minute longer and it was done with the same score. Somehow, out of nowhere, Sutheerth and Ayhika dug up an A-game that they themselves might not have known they had. With Sutheerth forcing the play and Ayhika setting the tempo, they controlled every aspect of the match. Naturally more defensive, Ahika told ESPN on the sidelines of the Ultimate Table Tennis League that she’s working on more attacking, mixing-and-matching, and you can see what that approach has done to her game here.
2-0 lead against a Chinese team. Wong had run out Monica Batra earlier in the day, before quickly recovering to win 4-2 in what was a headache for Indian TT fans. But what they were seeing here was of an entirely different dimension.
Then Game 3 happened and it looked like it would be too much. Wang and Chen, especially the latter, stepped on the gas. Nine minutes into the game, they took it 11-5. Clenched fists were accompanied by loud boos — a rare display of emotion for a Chinese team in an Asiad quarterfinal — but they bounced back.
In the second (or final?) game, the Indians took an early 2-1 lead, but the Chinese never really let them go. 2-1 Sundar Ayhika made it 4-2 on a drop shot, before Meng made it 4-4 with a couple of forehands. Sutheerth responded with a massive one of his own, and it was 5-4. That lead grew to 7-4 when Ayhika produced a delightful down-the-line backhand stick. There were uncharacteristic errors from both Meng and Wang but most of these were forced by the Indians’ all-out aggression. At 8-5, a break was called, and at this point, three points away from the unthinkable, India’s coach told his ward: Play Bindas.
It is understandable, even expected, if they do something Bindas. If they are being mounted by Chen and Wang under immense pressure, and crumbled under a playful home crowd. Instead, they won the next point. “Anyone who sees our doubles asks us why we talk and laugh so much,” Ayhika told ESPN. “It’s our way of supporting each other and being free so we can play well.”
Chen and Wang were fighting for their nation’s history in this game, and they led them back to 10-9, but the talk never stopped, nor did the support. And so neither of the Mukherjees played it safe and it showed that the Chinese pair wanted to find tighter and more extreme margins. And then, Meng hit a long forehand. won the game 11-9. The match was won 3-1.
Ayhikar Rubber – Dr. The Chinese kept Newbau’s gorilla! Added to Sutirtha’s attack pic.twitter.com/BZcYk0fxhA
– Neha Agarwal Sharma OLY (@nehaaggarwal) September 30, 2023
The record books will show it as an unforced error, but it was anything but. Ayhika and Sutheerth poked and prodded and smashed and dropped under the skin of two of the best TT players on the planet. they played Bindas And Goliath had no idea what hit them. Now they’ll walk home with at least one bronze knowing they’re through to a semi-final… but if their approach on Saturday is any indication, they’ll be going all out for the shiny yellow metal on Monday.
“Play Bindas!“Everything else will flow.
PS Incredibly, an hour later the team of Wang Manu and Sun Yingsha (World Nos 1 and 3) were beaten 3-1 by Japan’s Miwa Harimoto and Miu Kihara by the same score. For the first time since Bangkok 1966, there will be no Chinese medals in table tennis women’s doubles