The reigning women’s Table Tennis national champion exudes confidence ahead of WTT Star Contender Goa
26th February 2023; Goa: Sreeja Akula, the diminutive Hyderabadi national women’s Table Tennis champion 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, with none other than Indian legend Sharath Kamal by her side. That performance, her grit and never say die attitude, endeared her to fans and brought her into national limelight for the first time.
The WTT Star Contender Goa, scheduled in Panjim’s Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor stadium between February 27-March 05, 2023, is being hosted by Stupa Sports Analytics, also the data partners for WTT and International Table Tennis Federation, along with the Government of Goa with Goa being the Host City and Table Tennis Federation of India as the Supporting Partner. Sports Authority of Goa & Dream Foundation are the event partners for the tournament.
As she prepares to take part in a first home World Table Tennis (WTT) event Sreeja exudes confidence during a freewheeling chat.
“I aim to play the quarter-finals,” the Reserve Bank of India employee, says confidently from her home in Hyderabad, when probed on her goal in the tournament. She was naturally exhausted, what with the day beginning with an hour or so of fitness training followed by two and half hours of practice, but that did not prevent the ever-present calm, confident and warm smile from disappearing for even a second. It camouflaged a fierce competitor underneath.
Sreeja has grown every day since the 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 number five 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,” she said recalling the match. Mima, who won gold in the mixed doubles besides the singles bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, eventually won the tournament and is someone whose game Sreeja has idolised along with that of Manika Batra’s.
She was in no doubt about the tough task at hand 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 on quality. I also participated in the Singapore Grand Smash last year but only in the qualifiers. I will try and not take any pressure and take it 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 definitely coming down now. We have seen how Manika Di has recently beaten top Chinese and Japanese players also. Even our juniors like Suhana, 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 01.