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'I want to get into the top 10 in the future', TT sensation Sreeja Akula has set her sights on breaking into the top 10

'I want to get into the top 10 in the future', TT sensation Sreeja Akula has set her sights on breaking into the top 10


Recently, Sreeja Akula broke into the top 40 for the first time in her career.

Sreeja Akula's table tennis journey, from the backstreets of Naveen Nagar in Hyderabad, where she trained under her coach Somnath Ghosh in a one-room Global Table Tennis Academy with only one table available for the Paris Olympics, was incredibly inspiring.

The 25-year-old two-time national champion was introduced to the sport by her elder sister and was part of the Indian women's team that secured a team quota for the Paris Olympics by reaching the quarter-finals of the 2024 World Team Table Tennis Championships. After being knocked out by Chinese Taipei in the quarter-finals, they secured a place in Paris via the rankings route.

Now in the midst of a sweet spell on tour, which was cemented by reaching a career-high No. 40 in the world rankings, Sreeja spoke to Khel Now in an exclusive chat where she reflected on her early days, recent performance highlights and almost pulling off an upset against mighty China during the World Team Championships in Korea.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Breaking into the best career top #40 in the world rankings

At the WTT Feeder Corpus Christi 2024, Sreeja Akula achieved the first podium finish in the women's singles, earning her first international title. The rower from Telangana advanced to the final with a thrilling 3-2 (11-9, 9-11, 11-1, 6-11, 11-9) quarter-final win over top seed Amy Wang and a 3-1 victory about Stephanie Loeuillette. She continued her good form and also took the WTT Feeder Beirut II title.

Thanks to these titles and an overall fantastic run so far in 2024, Sreeja has broken into the top #40 in the world rankings this year. This is the first time that India has had two women's singles players in the top #40. Manika Batra is on the world rankings. 38 according to the last update on April 9.

Yes, I'm very happy. I have always hoped to bring home an international senior crown and the first in Corpus Christi holds a special place in my heart. The second is also extremely precious but always has a special place, Sreeja said.

As for the top career rankings, she added: It's just the beginning, I got into the top #50 a month ago and now the top #40. I want to be in the top 10 in the future.

Pushing China at World Team Championships

India came close but ultimately failed to cause an upset over the formidable China at the World Team Championships earlier this year. Facing China in their first group match at the Championships, India were certainly the underdogs. China, home to the current top five rowers in the women's singles division, had never lost two matches at the World Table Tennis Team Championships since 2010.

The match started with world number 1 Yingsha Sun facing India's Ayhika Mukherjee, who was then ranked number 155 in the world. Sun had never lost a team match in 26 appearances. But Ayhika, Sreeja recalled, was ready. She was very excited to play against her and was very involved.

As it turned out, Ayhika, known in China as the Dragon Slayer, pulled off the biggest upset of the year with a 3-1 win over the Chinese world number 1. But that wasn't the end. After China leveled with Wang Many's victory over Manika, Sreeja was scheduled to face then world number 2 Wang Yidi.

Sreeja remembered her thoughts from then on. To be honest, I didn't think about the score at all the entire match. I was just thinking about how this match would go and what I would play. Sreeja then stunned Yidi in dominant fashion in straight games, putting India 2-1 ahead in the tie.

I felt so much more confident after that match. Everyone was taken aback when India took a 2-1 lead. I feel like my belief in myself was the most important factor. To think that I am capable of that was, I believe, the key that Akula shared in the biggest win of her career.

India led 2-1 after Ayhika-Sreeja's heroics but failed to create history, with China rallying to win the last two matches and clinch the tie.

However, Sreeja has no regrets. We were aware that we had to play in the best possible way. The Chinese team may have been under pressure, but we felt comfortable because we had nothing to lose, she said.

Training camp in Taiwan before the Olympics

She will soon train in Taipei for ten days under coach Liu Jun-Lin as part of her preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris. However, Hyderabad will be her training base as she chases Olympic glory in Paris.

“I haven't had any training abroad yet,” Akula said. I'm only going so I can acquire quality sparring variations. My coach travels with me to provide guidance, as we are partners there. So it will just be a 10-day training camp that we have organized. She will next compete in the ITTF World Cup in Macau, which starts on April 15.

Thoughts on family support

Even as she prepares for a first shot at Olympic glory and gradually reaches her peak, Sreeja has not forgotten her roots and what made her become a paddler. She recalled how financial constraints prevented her father from taking up the sport professionally and how it was his unrealized dream that fueled her own ambitions in the sport.

Sreeja Akula Beirut Title
Sreeja Akula with coach Somnath Ghosh after winning the WTT Feeder Beirut II title (Courtesy: @sreejaakula31/Instagram)

My father played table tennis during his school days. Financial constraints kept him from turning professional, the current WR #40 paddler said. He accompanied my sister to her table tennis matches and it was she who inspired me to start playing. Because our family had no legacy in sports; my sister played until 10th grade before parents asked her to study engineering.

As they got to know the sports world better, they encouraged me to take up sports. I believe my sister's influence also played a role in their decision.


While her sister influenced her decision to take up table tennis, Sreeja looks up to the legendary Sharath Kamal, whom she respectfully calls Sharath bhaiya as her inspiration in the game. Sharath, who has climbed back into the top 40 of the world rankings at the age of 41, was also recently named as India's male flag-bearer for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Sreeja combined with her idol to win the gold in the mixed doubles at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Looking back on that experience, she said: It was a completely different emotion. When I initially played with him, I felt incredibly honored. I think because of how amiable he was, I never felt like I was playing with such an experienced player. He made me feel at ease and I believe we had a good relationship. The tournament was fantastic.

I have been watching Sharath bhaiya (brother) since I was a kid and admiring his talent. He is my inspiration.

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