A small-town girl with big dreams in her eyes, Sutirtha Mukherjee has now bagged a berth at the Tokyo Olympics. The story of the Indian paddler is no less than a movie script.
Hailing from Naihati, a town in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, Sutirtha Mukherjee made headlines when she qualified for her maiden Olympics last Thursday.
The 25-year-old defeated her much-fancied compatriot Manika Batra 7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 4-11, 11-5, 11-4 at the Asian qualifiers women’s singles to book her Tokyo ticket. Regarded as one of the most attacking paddlers in the Indian circuit, Sutirtha Mukherjee’s journey to the top hasn't been an easy one.
She started playing table tennis at a very young age at the Naihati club and learned the basics of the game under her childhood coach Mihir Ghosh. From there on, as she developed her game, Sutirtha Mukherjee shifted to Jadavpur to train under former players, Soumyadeep Roy and Poulomi Ghatak.
Sutirtha Mukherjee owes it to her mother Nita
Much of the credit also goes to her mother, Nita, who sacrificed a lot for the Indian star. An indoor sports enthusiast, Nita would often accompany her daughter to several tournaments and also stay with Sutirtha at their rented apartment in Jadavpur, leaving behind the family.
Besides her mother, equal credit goes to Roy and Ghatak. The duo not only shaped Sutirtha Mukherjee into a world-class paddler but also made her mentally stronger, which is essential in a fast sport like table tennis.
From being ranked below 500 a couple of years ago, Mukherjee broke into the top 100 last year, achieving her career-best ranking of 95. It has also made her the current India No. 2 player in women's singles, behind Manika Batra.
The 25-year-old has also given enough evidence of her mental strength. Coming back to win the 2016 Nationals after being suspended by the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) for age fraud, speaks a lot about Sutirtha Mukherjee’s determination to prove herself.
Sutirtha Mukherjee's rise to the top
Sutirtha Mukherjee first showed her prowess at the 2013 Junior World Championships before going on to participate in the Asian Championships, Australian Open, Korean Open at the senior level.
She was a part of the gold medal-winning Indian women’s team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2019 Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship. Mukherjee has also represented U Mumba in the Ultimate Table Tennis, where she has beaten higher-ranked Petrissa Solja.
With the Tokyo Olympics just a few months to go, she needs more game-time against higher-ranked paddlers in international tournaments to build her confidence.
Although not a part of the Government of India’s Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme, Sutirtha will hopefully be inducted in the same after her Asian qualifiers heroics as she aims for Tokyo glory.