Panjim (Goa), Feb 26 (SocialNews.XYZ) India's top table tennis player and Commonwealth Games medallist Sreeja Akula is on a high after her recent success and is hoping to do well at the World Table Tennis (WTT) Star Contender Goa 2023, scheduled to be held between February 27 and March 5.
Sreeja Akula, the diminutive national women's table tennis champion from Hyderabad, has had a dream run for the past 10 months.
After winning her maiden national crown in April last year in Shillong, Sreeja experienced the high of a Commonwealth Games gold for the country in the mixed doubles in Birmingham last year, partnering Indian legend Sharath Kamal. That performance, her grit and her never-say-die attitude endeared her to fans and brought her into the national limelight for the first time.
As she prepares to take part in a first home World Table Tennis (WTT) event in Panjim's Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium, Sreeja exudes confidence during a freewheeling chat.
"I aim to play the quarterfinals," the Reserve Bank of India employee said confidently from her home in Hyderabad when probed on her goal in the tournament.
She was naturally exhausted after a busy training schedule that begins with an hour or so of fitness training followed by two and a half hours of practice. But that did not prevent the calm, confident and warm smile from disappearing for even a second. It camouflaged a fierce competitor underneath.
Sreeja has grown in experience every day since Birmingham high and is clearly not one to sit back on her laurels.
After qualifying for the World Table Tennis Championships (Durban, May 2023) singles draw in January in Lusail, Qatar, Sreeja played a WTT Contender event in Jordan where she gave a fright to world No. 5 Mima Ito of Japan, going down in four games in the round of 32.
"I gave her a tough fight in all the games and even took a game off her. It has given me a lot of confidence," Sreeja was quoted as saying by the organisers in a release.
She was in no doubt about the tough task at hand in Goa however, saying, "It is going to be a very tough tournament as all the top players are participating. It is definitely the strongest singles main draw I have played in. I have participated in Star Contender events before but the field was not this high in quality.
"I also participated in the Singapore Grand Smash last year but only in the qualifiers. I will try and not to take any pressure and take it to match by match. Training has been going on very well and I am confident of a good show."
On the gap between strong Table Tennis nations like China, Korea, Japan, Sweden, Germany and India, Sreeja felt the gap is closing down.
"The gap is definitely coming down now. We have seen how Manika Di has recently beaten top Chinese and Japanese players also. Even our juniors like Suhana, and Yashaswini are doing very well so we are definitely getting better.
"The gap I believe comes in fitness levels mainly. Also, the Asian nations particularly have it in their blood you can say. They have sports schools and villages where people leave their children at the age of four and five. So it's like a tradition. So the environment there is totally different. But as I said, we are definitely closing the gap and TT is really growing fast in the country."
Sreeja aims to reach Goa on Sunday, After bidding adieu to her elder sister, also a former Table Tennis player, who moved to the US just last week. She will then have enough time to practice at the venue, before the main draw begins on March 1.
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