India's next table tennis hope speaks: "No recognition for the sport despite Commonwealth glory"

Sumana Saha at a table tennis event

Table tennis is a popular sport around the world, played by around 200 countries. India has been playing the sport professionally since the establishment of the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) in 1937. Although the sport is not very popular within the country, the organization’s efforts have produced a number of world class players.

Still, not many in the country pursue the sport due to its relative lack of visibility. Among the few who do, however, 18-year-old Sumana Saha stands out as a talent to look out for.

Born on August, 1998 in Naihati, a town around 40 km from Kolkata, the promising young player has been playing the sport since she was eight. Preparing for Under-21 events now, she dreams of representing India at the Olympics in the future.

Saha was among the top 3 in the Under-18 category of the National table tennis rankings in 2014. She had previously held the first position in the Under-15 category of the National rankings back in 2011.

Despite her young age, she’s already amassed a long list of achievements:

TournamentPosition HeldYear
Sub Junior National ChampionshipWinner2011
Indian Open (Singles)Quarterfinalist 2011
Indian Open (Team)Winner 2011
World Circuit Cadet Open (Under 15)Winner2012
Junior National Championship (Team)Winner2013
Junior National Championship (Doubles)Runner up2013
University east zoneWinner2015
State championship (junior girls)Winner2010, 2011
State championship (junior girls)Runner up2012
State championship (youth girls)Winner2014
State championship (youth girls)Winner2015
CBSE National Under 19Runner up2013

She recalls playing her first major tournament at the age of 14 in an east zone contest.

As a child, Saha regularly accompanied her mother to the table tennis club her brother played for. “My brother Sourav won a lot of medals and he was the one to introduce me to the sport,” she says, adding that he is her role model.

Her other role model is Poulami Ghatak, who represented India in table tennis at the Commonwealth games in Melbourne in 2006 and the Commonwealth Games between 2000 and 2008.

“The only way to increase the popularity of table-tennis in India is by getting it more media attention. The mainstream media doesn’t pay as much attention to this sport as it does to cricket, for instance,” she said. “Even after the number of achievements by Indians at the recently held Commonwealth Games the media didn’t highlight the sport so much, like always,” she added.

A player with lofty dreams, Saha is a student of Psychology at Calcutta University. “I see people these days have no inner peace and motivation and being a sportsperson I have to stay motivated all the time,” she said when asked about her choice of the subject.

The 18-year-old acknowledged how instrumental her family had been in her career, saying “What I am today is only because of my parents and my brother. They are my inspirers and motivators. I want to work harder and make them and my country proud.”

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