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Asian Games: Friendship Propels TT Pair Sutirtha-Ayhika From Naihati to Hangzhou

Asian Games 2023: Here's how Sutirtha Mukherjee & Ayhikha Mukherjee used their friendship to create history in China

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Asian Games
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India, in unison, will celebrate the remarkable achievement of Sutirtha Mukherjee & Ayhika Mukherjee, as the table tennis pair qualified for the semi-finals of women’s doubles in the 2023 Asian Games, subsequently becoming the first women's doubles TT pair from India to secure a medal in this competition.

The celebration, however, will be at its most fervent in Naihati. Travel about 50 kilometres northwards from the West Bengal capital, Kolkata, and you will reach this city. Continue travelling 70 kilometres westwards, and you’ll spot a ‘Welcome to Bangladesh’ sign somewhere.

A quaint city with the characteristic anachronism of anything West Bengal. Or, as we now know it, the city which produced Mukherjee² – a pair that is proving to be among India’s few sources of optimism, amid trying times in table tennis.
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Having won two medals in the 2018 edition, the Indian table tennis contingent were on the verge of returning empty-handed from Hangzhou. But with their compatriots struggling, Ayhika and Sutirtha have scripted history.

Asian Games 2023: Here's how Sutirtha Mukherjee & Ayhikha Mukherjee used their friendship to create history in China

Sutirtha Mukherjee & Ayhika Mukherjee defeated the world number 2 pair of Meng Chen and Yidi Wang.

(Photo: Twitter/Media_SAI)

What’s working in their favour? As it turns out, according to the players themselves, it is their bond of friendship.

Ahead of their trip to Hangzhou, Ayhika and Sutirtha shared tales of their journeys in the sport during an interaction with The Quint.

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Picking up the Racquet for Their Mothers

In an inexplicable-yet-conceivable synchronisation, they took to the racquets for the same reason – their mothers.

A major reason why I picked up the sport is my mother. In West Bengal, it is very common for parents to get their daughters enrolled in singing or dancing classes at a young age, but my mother wanted something different for me. She wanted me to be in sports instead.
Ayhika Mukherjee

Along similar lines, Sutirtha adds “I started playing table tennis because of my mother, too. She is a huge fan of indoor games, and in Naihati, table tennis was the only indoor game she could get me enrolled to.”

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With their mothers having the same aspirations, Ayhika and Sutirtha soon found themselves at an academy run by Mihir Ghosh, who has coached many national-level players from the state.

“As we went to the same academy, we have been friends since childhood,” recalls Ayhika. “Our families very close as well. Like us, our mothers too became great friends,” Sutirtha adds.

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The Decision To Play Together

Although playing together for around two decades, it has not been very long since they decided to form a women’s doubles pair. At the heart of the decision-making procedure was – friendship.

“Initially, we would not play together very frequently. Both of us had rotating partners – we have had different partners in different competitions. It has only been about a year since we decided that we would only play with each other in doubles, and in this one year, we have made it to the top 20 in the rankings,” Ayhika states.

Sutirtha explains the rationale.

We decided that since we have had such a good bond for many years, why not test the bond on the table? Soon we realised that we could be a good pairing, because we are at our best when we play with each other.
Sutirtha Mukherjee
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Unlike Poles Attract

For all of their similarities, including their families’, Ayhika and Sutirtha are opposite poles in their mannerisms. The former sports the hail-fellow-well-met personality effortlessly, while the latter chooses to be, albeit always amiable, a tad reticent.

The two personalities complement each other. And so do their individual styles of playing, believes the pair.

We complement each other very well, because we know how to bring the best out of each other. She can hide my weaknesses with her strengths, and vice versa. Sutirtha tells me she feels the most comfortable when she is with me.
Ayhika Mukherjee
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Mukherjee² Refuses To Look Into Rankings

In the quarter-final tie, the Mukherjees were up against the formidable Chinese pair of Meng Chen and Yidi Wang, who are currently ranked second in the world.

Such a scenario was not unexpected at the Asian Games, but on being asked about the possibility of playing against comparatively stronger opponents before the tournament, both sounded confident.

We defeated the top three pairs of the world in Tunisia earlier this year. Of course, the top-ranked pairs are so high on the rankings for a reason, but they too are humans. They don’t have superpowers. I don’t feel there is any reason to believe we are doomed to lose when we face higher-ranked opponents. We will try to do what we can do best. I am a firm believer in what’s written in the Bhagavad Gita – the result is not in our hands. We will do our bit, and leave the result to the almighty.
Ayhika Mukherjee

“We have decided that we will never look into the ranking of our opponents. We try to enjoy our game, irrespective of who we are playing against,” Sutirtha added.

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Irrespective of the Outcome, the Pair Can Be Proud

The challenge will be stern once again in the semi-final, where they will face DPR Korea's Cha Su-yong and Pak Su-gyong. The odds are stacked against them, and considerably so. But irrespective of the outcome, the pair, Mukherjee², their city, and the nation can be proud of their progress.

“Ayhika and I are not from a metropolitan, where we had all facilities readily available. We are from a small city. Both of us had to toil very hard for everything we have achieved. When I look back at our journeys today, I feel really proud that we have come this far,” Sutirtha concludes.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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