The 22-year-old paddler is elated at the maiden national medal.
Hyderabad: Hyderabad paddler Akula Sreeja entered the record books as the first woman paddler from both the Telugu States to win a medal at senior nationals when she pocketed bronze in the UTT 82nd National Table Tennis Championship in Panchkula recently.
The 22-year-old paddler is elated at the maiden national medal. She lost to eventual champion Manika Batra in the semifinal to settle for the bronze. She is not ready to rest on her laurels as she trains her sights on improving international ranking next year by playing more tournaments abroad. Speaking about her performance in the nationals, the Assistant Manager in Reserve Bank of India, said, “I am happy with the medal. I have prepared well for this tournament. We started training in June after the forced break because of Covid-19. I have also worked hard on my fitness. But I didn’t have enough match practice as there were no tournaments in between. So playing the first tournament in a long time was a bit odd but I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“I didn’t set any target or expectations. I wanted to give my best and I gave my best. I gave a tough fight to Manika in semifinals. It has been three to four years since I last played her. She changed her game a lot and I need to improve my game a lot. But it felt good to play the game after a long time. I wasn’t nervous but felt fresh playing after such a long gap,” added the youngster.
Sreeja is ranked 150 in the world in women’s category and wants to improve her ranking to give herself a shot at representing Indian in Commonwealth Games and next Olympics. But for that she needs to play more international tournaments. “Once we get an international schedule, I want to play more matches so that I can improve my ranking. But it is tough financially. I don’t have sponsors. We have been spending money from our pocket. We are not sure for how long we can afford this,” she revealed.
The Indian No.3 woman player missed out on the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) which would have allowed her to train with Indian camp. “Now, I am part of the Indian team for the next two tournaments scheduled to be held in Doha this month. But Indian team also plays only three or four tournaments abroad. We have to play internationally on our own. Manika and others play more international as they are part of TOPS. I have also tried but didn’t get anything in our favour. If I get selected to TOPS it would help me a lot.”
She also thanked State IT Minister K T Rama Rao for roping in her coach Somnath Ghosh on deputation to train State players. Sreeja now trains at Somnath Ghosh UTT Table Tennis Academy. Meanwhile, coach Somnath predicted a bright future for her. “She is the first one to win a medal at nationals from both States. This is a big achievement for her but I was expecting gold or silver. The semis (against Manika) was tough. Manika is a different player after the Commonwealth Games. We will work harder. Overall, she did very well. She worked very hard in the lockdown. We worked with fitness trainer Hirak Bagchi to improve her fitness.”
Somnath also felt that Sreeja will get a big boost if she is included in TOPS. “She played tourneys with her own expenses and a few sponsors from our academy helped her. Amarnath Reddy and Jayesh Ranjan arranged a few sponsors. She being the third ranked player in India, I thought she would get into TOPS. If the government supports her, she will win laurels for the country,” he added.