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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Indian paddler Ayhika Mukherjee wows world with unconventional style of play


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Busan (South Korea): Ranked world No. 155, Ayhika Mukherjee was not initially seen as a contender to watch in major table tennis tournaments.

However, her surprising victory over China’s Sun Yingsha at the ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Busan on Friday has certainly turned heads, thanks in part to her distinctive style of play.

“This is the best victory in my lifetime,” said an elated Mukherjee about her victory over the top-ranked female paddler. “When I saw that we would play against China, I told my teammates that I really wanted to play with Sun Yingsha. When I saw that I would play against her, I was really happy in the morning.”

According to World Table Tennis (WTT), it was Sun’s first-ever defeat in a team event.

Facing an opponent of Sun’s caliber, the reigning world champion, Mukherjee adopted the mindset of a challenger, focusing solely on her game without dwelling on the outcome.

“I didn’t plan anything. I just went there and played my 100%. I will enjoy every point because she is the best. If I want to win, I just need to do my best. To be honest, I didn’t think about winning or losing. I just told myself that I will play every point, whatever the ball comes, I will try to play on the other side the next ball. That was my only plan,” Mukherjee noted.

Mukherjee’s victory is largely attributed to her secret weapon of a paddle equipped with anti-spin rubber on her backhand, as she can chop-block and neutralize opponents’ spin, leaving them to move back and forth in hesitation, befuddled.

“It’s really different from others, everybody plays backhand so fast. So I play with a different kind of rubber, which is anti-spin, so I can chop-block and slow the ball,” Mukherjee explained.

This wasn’t the first time Mukherjee’s deceptive style posed a threat to Chinese paddlers.

At last year’s Hangzhou Asian Games, she and Sutirtha Mukherjee ousted Chen Meng and Wang Yidi in the quarterfinals, securing India’s first medal in the women’s doubles event at the Asian Games. They also clinched the title at the WTT Contender in Tunis in June of the same year.

Despite India’s 3-2 defeat to China in their opening match, Mukherjee remains optimistic about her team’s prospects in Busan, with spots for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games on the line.

“Here we started well, I really want to play well in the next matches. We don’t have any expectations, but of course we want to qualify for the Olympics if we play good here,” Mukherjee commented.

“The outcome is not in our hand. We will just play 100%. We will play our best so that we can do well in the next matches,” she added.

The win against an elite player in a major competition also helps to boost Mukherjee’s confidence while looking ahead.

“If I meet Sun Yingsha again, of course she will prepare really well when she plays the next match, and even I will try to prepare really well, I wouldn’t say that I beat her, I would just enjoy the match again and play every point,” she remarked.

“Again, the outcome is not in my hand, so I would do my best in the next match as well,” Mukherjee concluded.

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