Table Tennis: A woman defeating men in a national sporting event might come as a surprise to many.

Yeshi Choden, 24, has been making her name in this male-dominated sport by conquering her male opponents.

During the three-day national open table tennis championship in Thimphu, Yeshi Choden defeated two male opponents in straight sets to reach the quarterfinals on December 16.

In an equally intense battle, Yeshi Choden lost to the junior national champion Leki Dorji in the quarterfinals. The first two sets went to Leki, who with his fine serves and quicker reflexes overwhelmed Yeshi.

The former national player got back in the game and took the third set in the best-of-five series. However, Yeshi couldn’t cope up with the young talent and ultimately lost the final set 11-8.

“It is not easy to play the regulars. I don’t get to play often because of my work,” she said. “Playing against men makes it more difficult but I enjoy this game.”

An engineer by profession, Yeshi has been a keen table tennis player since the age of seven. She also represented the country as the national player from 2004-2009.

Her passion for the game also got her a scholarship to pursue her degree in India. She was a regular player during her college and school days.

Yeshi said that the number of participants, especially among females in the sport, is declining every year.

“During my high school days there used to be more participations and the it used to be more fun,” she said. “Maybe because of other games and internet, people have lost interest in table tennis these days.”

The national head coach with the Bhutan Table Tennis Federation (BTF), Fumika Miura, said that Bhutanese girls lack the motivation to take up table tennis since the game is not popular in the country today.

“We need a few female players who can motivate other females to play table tennis. Currently we lack these motivational players,” said the JICA volunteer, adding that the junior players that comprise mostly of males has made great improvement in the game. “But for tennis to improve in Bhutan, both girls and boys need to grow and improve equally.”

Of the 35 participating in the championship this year, only six are female. However, only three female participants turned up for the competition.

In the first semi-finals on December 16, Leki Dorji, after defeating Yeshi Choden, played his elder brother Namgay Dorji to reach the finals. However, his more experienced brother humbled the young junior champion.

“I am impressed at how my younger brother has improved over the years, but I was sure I would win this game,” said Namgay Dorji. “Had I not practised for the game, I would have lost given how he played today.”

Namgay Dorji will play his national partner Raj Kumar in the finals of the competition on December 23.

BTF in collaboration with the Japan Table Tennis Association will conduct a weeklong programme from December 20 in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha.

Coaching, exhibition and friendly matches will be conducted to observe 30 years of Bhutan-Japan friendship.

Younten Tshedup