Sutirtha Mukherjee will return to the senior national team after 20 months. The table tennis player from Bengal last represented the country in the Tokyo Olympics in July-August 2021.
Sutirtha is in the India squad for the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships Finals to be played in Durban from May 20. Also in the squad are world No. 39 Manika Batra, national champion Sreeja Akula and Reeth Rishya Tennison.
Ranked 120 in the world now, Sutirtha remained in the wilderness as table tennis plunged into never-seen-before controversy after Manika lodged match-fixing allegations against the Naihati paddler's coach and former India player Soumyadeep Roy.
The 27-year-old Railway employee did not lose heart, kept practising and soon her hard work started to pay off. Three gold medals in the National Games, including in the singles, a good performance in the WTT Star Contender in Goa — she beat World No. 18 Jia Nan Yuan of France 3-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-7) in the Round-of-32 to notch up her biggest-ever career win — was followed by a runner-up medal in the recently-concluded National Table Tennis Championships.
"I am happy to be back in the national team. It's a big boost for me," she said on Wednesday.
Sutirtha returned from Antalya, Turkey, a couple of days ago. She was there for the WTT Feeder meet but lost 3-2 in the round-of-64 to Yuan Wan of Germany. "It was a close match," she said.
Her father Avijit, who felt down and out after her daughter's name was dragged into the controversy in 2021, was elated at the news of the comeback. "After darkness there is light," he said. "Everyone related to table tennis should be happy. Her perseverance paid off."
Avijit said Sutirtha was unlucky to lose to Sreeja in the Nationals. "It was just luck. She was brilliant throughout." Sutirtha had beaten the India No 1 in the National Games final.
Sutirtha still practises at the Dhanuka Dhunseri Soumyadeep Poulomi Academy and coach Soumyadeep said she has to now prepare for the Paris Olympics.
"Dhunseri Foundation will finance her in the run-up to the 2024 Games. So she doesn't have to worry about the financial part," he said. "She has been playing really well of late. We want her to maintain this form. This year she should play in 10 international tournaments."