by Neha Aggarwal
Only Indian woman to reach the final four of the Under 21 singles competition, Sreeja Akula brought smiles to the faces of the Indian fans as she knocked out Chinese Taipei’s Lin Po-Hsuan in a full five games duel (7-11, 11-6, 11-6, 3-11, 9-11).
“I have previously played against Lin and I lost in a close match. I wanted to take the revenge today, I am so glad I made it,” said Sreeja with a bright smile. Today, she just seemed to be prepared, with a perfect combination of attack and defence in her mind.
“Even though I use long pimples on my backhand, I am essentially an attacker. Today, my forehand topspins were landing precisely where I wanted them to, that made all the difference,” she emphasized.
In the deciding game, Sreeja lead 10-8 and wrapped up the game 11-9. She later revealed that at that situation, she changed the strategy. “I was only focusing on my attack until then, and Lin was getting used to my game plan. However, at the end, I decided to allow her to attack and be aggressive on my backhand blocks. She was taken aback which helped me fetch points,” she explained.
Student, on the table
Sreeja is coached my former Indian national player Somnath Ghosh in the Indian city to Hyderabad, located in the southern state of Telangana. She caught the attention at the international arena at the 2013 El Salvador Junior and Cadet Open where she was crowned the champion in the Junior Girls’ Singles. She also won a silver medal in the Cadet Girls’ Singles at the 2013 Guatemala Junior and Cadet Open. Since then, Sreeja has had an upward learning curve having regularly participating at the world stage and even winning.
“In the 2014 World Junior Table Tennis Championships held at Shanghai, I beat Alina Nikitchanka of Belarus. I was trailing 1-3 and ended up winning 4-3. This was the second time I was playing against a defender, the entire crowd was cheering for me. That is one of my most memorable wins,” she recalled.
Sreeja was the member of the 2015 ATTU Pathway to Excellence programme, an ATTU scholarship style of investments offered to three selected athletes to cover for high performance preparation and participation at ITTF World Tour events. Three players, Sreeja, Thailand’s Sutashini Sawettabutand and Iran’s Nima Alamyian were chosen. They underwent a training camp in Halmstad, Sweden, followed by participation in two ITTF World Tour events – the Bulgarian and Czech Open.
Student, off the table
Sreeja is currently a student of first year university at the Badruka College in her hometown Hyderabad. She gives equal importance to studies and thus carries her books even while traveling for matches. “I always make sure I study when I do not have a match. Even here in New Delhi, I have my books with me. My final exams are in March, so I need to prepare for them.My favourite subject is accounting,” she explained.
A diligent student, Sreeja follows a strict regime. “My day starts at 6:00am with one hour of physical fitness, followed by two hours of table tennis. I then rush to college and get home by 3:00pm. Then my evenings are devoted to table tennis, from 4:00-7:30pm,” she said. “After reaching home, I finish my school work and studies, its essential for my development,” she added.
She secured 96 per cent marks in her senior secondary final examinations, and thus was the topper in her school!
This 19 year old is off any distractions. With such a hectic schedule, she has all her focus on two things in life: table tennis and studies.
“I not even on Facebook,” she ended an interesting conversation with a grin.