‘Not just a doubles specialist’: Ayhika Mukherjee after Paris Games omission - Hindustan Times
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‘Not just a doubles specialist’: Ayhika Mukherjee after Paris Games omission

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
May 23, 2024 11:23 PM IST

Ayhika won a historic Asian Games doubles medal with Sutirtha last year and played a key role at this year's Team Worlds.

Asian Games bronze medallist Ayhika Mukherjee said she is “not just a doubles specialist” and can pair up with any player, after her omission from the three-member women’s table tennis team for the Paris Olympics. Ayhika was named as a reserve and will travel with the squad to Paris.

India's Sutirtha Mukherjee (L) and Ayhika Mukherjee (R) celebrate a point as they compete against China's Chen Meng and Wang Yidi in the women's doubles quarter-final table tennis match(AFP)
India's Sutirtha Mukherjee (L) and Ayhika Mukherjee (R) celebrate a point as they compete against China's Chen Meng and Wang Yidi in the women's doubles quarter-final table tennis match(AFP)

In stating that the third player’s pick alongside Manika Batra and Sreeja Akula was debated, the federation's selection committee chose Archana Kamath over Ayhika based on, among other factors, her higher international singles ranking (102 to Ayhika's 136). What also could've gone in Archana's favour is that she and Manika have played doubles together on the tour in the past (at the Olympics, team events comprise four singles and one doubles matches).

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“My current world ranking in women’s doubles (with Sutirtha Mukherjee) is 13. My individual doubles ranking is 31, followed by Sreeja at 59, Diya (Chitale) at 60, Archana at 97 and Manika didi at 99,” Ayhika said. “I am not just a doubles specialist; I have given some exceptional singles performances both at national and international level and I can play as a pair with any other player keeping in mind various factors. I have also played as a pair with Sreeja in the past.”

Ayhika won a historic Asian Games doubles medal with Sutirtha last year and played a key role at this year's Team Worlds — she defeated world No. 1 Chinese Sun Yingsha and a few other higher-ranked players — from where the women’s team all but confirmed the Paris spot. Ayhika said no one from the federation or the selection committee reached out to her about their decision.

“My confidence is not broken and dreams have not shattered. I have faith in my hard work. No one can predict the future and anything can happen," Ayhika said, adding that she will continue to train with Paris in mind. “I have always contributed and delivered results when it was expected from me, either at doubles or singles events in major tournaments. The reactions from everyone after the team announcement speaks for itself on how I would have felt.”

The paddler from Naihati, who isn't part of the TOPS core or development group and only got a private sponsor after the Asian Games, said limited funds restrict her means to travel abroad to compete in WTT tournaments and thereby try and push her individual ranking. In 2024 so far, she participated in five WTT events overseas (not including team events), while Archana competed in eight.

"With the federation's support, I can play maximum 5-6 events, and that too depends on my performance and ranking. Since I am not part of TOPS unlike other players, to play more tournaments and better my ranking, I have to self fund. And that is difficult,” she said.

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