Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee did something very few would have thought of.
The Mukherjees of Naihati in North 24 Parganas, some 40km from Calcutta, tamed a Chinese pair in China on Saturday. Sutirtha, 27, and her one-year younger partner and friend defeated world champion Meng Chen and Yidi Wang 11-5, 11-5, 5-11, 11-9 to assure India of a table tennis medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
This is the first time that India will win a medal in women’s doubles. The Chinese duo are the current world champions and world No.2, while the Indians are ranked 16.
Sutirtha had a turbulent time in the last two years when her compatriot and table tennis superstar Manika Batra alleged that her coach — then at the helm of the women’s team too — had asked her to throw a Tokyo Olympic Games qualification match in 2021. Unwittingly, she was dragged into the
controversy but this year she returned to the national team and there has been no looking back.
The Mukherjees know each other’s game like the back of their hand, since they grew up together hitting the table tennis ball under the guidance of Mihir Ghosh.
“She went through hell in the last two years,” Sutirtha’s mother Nita Mukherjee told The Telegraph on Saturday evening.
“Proud of our daughters. Ayhika did a conference call with us and Sutirtha’s parents. Celebrations are on hold till the semis,” Ayhika’s proud father Gautam said.
It’s redemption for Sutirtha’s personal coach Soumyadeep Roy too. He was sent to the gallows by his detractors even before the charges were proven, but on Saturday, Roy was over the moon.
“Never felt so good. Even as a player, I did not feel so happy. These two girls have done a huge favour to me. I can sleep well now,” Roy was talking fast.
Ayhika shifted under Roy’s tutelage some four months ago after the duo decided to concentrate on doubles again. They had won a WTT Contender meet in Tunis in June which boosted their confidence.
The rubbers in their table tennis bats also kept their rivals guessing.
“Ayhika uses a specific type of rubber and Sutirtha knows exactly what to expect when their rivals effect a return,” Gautam said.
Hopefully, on Monday too, in the semi-final against North Korea, the duo’s rubber variation will play a decisive role.