A Chennai show

Published : Jan 31, 2009 00:00 IST

Sharath Kamal... a rare hat-trick of National singles titles.-PICS: RANJEET KUMAR
Sharath Kamal... a rare hat-trick of National singles titles.-PICS: RANJEET KUMAR

Sharath Kamal... a rare hat-trick of National singles titles.-PICS: RANJEET KUMAR

The success of Sharath Kamal and Shamini Kumaresan highlighted the growing strength of Chennai which, with its numerous academies and clubs, re-emerged as a centre of excellence in the sport. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

The 70th edition of the National Championship, held in Patna, Bihar, saw Achanta Sharath Kamal complete a rare hat-trick of titles, while Shamini Kumaresan triumphed in her maiden appearance in the final. The two also played key roles in helping Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) retain the men’s and women’s team titles for the seventh successive time.

The last time players from the South claimed a double in the Nationals was in 2002 when S. Raman and N. R. Indu emerged champs. Thereafter, the women’s section came to be dominated by the Bengal players, Poulami Ghatak and Mouma Das. Interestingly enough, this year Shamini downed four-time National champion Mouma in the women’s final to break the Bengal domination.

On the other hand, in the men’s section, Sharath Kamal took over the reins from S. Raman but the changeover wasn’t really smooth. After Sharath won his maiden National title in 2003, Raman came back for his final glory in 2004. Sharath’s PSPB team-mate Subhajit Saha, who hails from North Bengal, pipped him for the 2005 title (the tournament was held in 2006) before the former came back to monopolise the men’s scene.

The dominance of Sharath and Shamini in Patna underlined the re-emergence of Tamil Nadu on the National scene. The two Tamil Nadu players, though, chose to represent their employer, PSPB, more specifically IndianOil. Their success nevertheless highlighted the growing strength of Chennai which, with its numerous academies and clubs, re-emerged as a centre of excellence in the sport.

Incidentally, the states stopped winning titles ever since the institutional sides — Petroleum, Railways and the Banks — started picking up talents from states like Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Besides skill and temperament, what makes Sharath the player that he is, is the power that he is able to generate from his strapping frame. He is also a thinking player. The Indian champion’s stint in Spain, where he has been playing for the Super Division club, San Sebastian, for quite some time now, has also helped Sharath a great deal.

In the Nationals, it was in the final stages of the individual events that Sharath, seeded No. 1, faced some challenge. It came from fourth-seeded Sourav Chakraborty of Railways in the semifinals and unseeded Pathik Mehta of Gujarat in the final.

“The last two matches were good. Both my opponents played well and forced me to bring out my best,” said Sharath after winning his matches 4-1.

The National has definitely helped Sharath gain valuable match practice as he is now trying to adapt to the challenges posed by the new water-based glue introduced the world over. “I am in the phase of adjusting to the new glue, which has greatly reduced the amount of spin and grip on the ball. I am learning to play staying close to the table,” Sharath said.

Although he wasn’t tested much, Sharath kept dropping games, which was because of the adjustments he was experimenting with. However, he was head and shoulders above his rivals.

In the men’s final Sharath ended the spectacular run of the unheralded Pathik, who had upstaged three seeded players on way to his maiden final. While Sharath dominated the top half of the draw, unseeded Pathik, who plays for the Spanish First Division club, Tramuntana Figuera, shook the bottom half with repeated upsets. The 20-year-old Gujarat player sprang the first big surprise of the tournament by defeating second-seeded Subhajit Saha in the quarterfinals. He then went on to beat third-seeded Anthony Amal Raj (Petroleum) in the semifinals.

“Playing a variety of shots and staying focussed under pressure are the extra things that I have learnt there (in Spain),” said Pathik.

The second day of the individual championship, which surprisingly packed three rounds (from the second round to the quarterfinals), saw the hierarchy being shattered in both the men’s and women’s sections. While Pathik did most of the damage in the men’s section, Maharashtra’s Divya Deshpande caused an upheaval in the women’s section. The unseeded Divya performed exceptionally well to knock out the defending champion and fourth seed, Poulami Ghatak, in the quarterfinals.

The other major upset in the women’s section was the defeat of title aspirant Neha Aggarwal. The second seed was beaten 4-1 in the pre-quarterfinals by Ashlesha Bodas of Maharashtra.

Ashlesha, however, fell in the next round to her state-mate Pooja Sahasrabudhe.

In another big upset, Mouma Das, who won the National title last in 2006, beat third-seeded Madhurika Patkar of PSPB in the quarterfinals.

The National title was a just reward for Shamini who has shown good form all through the season. Having triumphed in two zonal National ranking events barely a couple of months ago, Shamini played with élan to upstage Mouma in the final.

Shamini took an early lead, winning the first three games quickly. Mouma, making her ninth appearance in the final, tried to make a comeback by winning the fourth and the fifth games. But Shamini salvaged five game points in the sixth game to win the match and the title.

Mouma paired with her long-time partner Poulami Ghatak to retain the women’s doubles title.

The men’s doubles title was won by top seeds Subhajit Saha and Amal Raj (PSPB).

In the team events, PSPB blanked its opponents — Railways in the men’s section and North Bengal in the women’s category — by identical 3-0 score lines.

THE RESULTSMen’s Singles final

1-A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Pathik Mehta (Gujarat) 12-10, 11-8, 11-4, 9-11, 12-10. Semifinals: Sharath Kamal bt 4-Sourav Chakraborty (RSPB) 11-7, 9-11, 11-1, 12-10, 12-10; Pathik Mehta bt 3-A. Amal Raj (PSPB) 11-7, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 11-8.

Doubles final

Subhajit Saha & Amal Raj (PSPB) bt R. S. Raja & G. Sathiyan (TN) 8-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7, 11-3.

Women’s singles final

1-K. Shamini (PSPB) bt Mouma Das (WB) 11-8, 11-8, 11-6, 8-11, 8-11, 13-11. Semifinals: Shamini bt Divya Deshpande (Maharashtra ‘A’) 11-8, 11-7, 11-9, 8-11, 11-7; Mouma Das bt 7-Pooja Sahasrabudhe (Maharashtra ‘A’) 11-5, 11-7, 11-4, 11-7.

Doubles final

Poulami Ghatak & Mouma Das (WB) bt Divya Deshpande & Ashlesha Bodas (Maharashtra ‘A’) 11-6, 11-8, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 11-7.

Doubles final

Aniket Koparkar & Pooja Sahasrabudhe (Maharashtra ‘A’) bt Subham Chowdhury & Mousumi Pal (WB) 9-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-6, 7-11, 11-6.

Team championship

Men’s final: PSPB bt Railways 3-0 (A. Sharath Kamal bt Anirban Nandi 11-7, 11-6, 11-4; Subhajit Saha bt Sourav Chakraborty 11-6, 11-9, 11-5; Amal Raj bt Sayan Paul Roy 11-8, 9-11, 11-5, 11-3). Semifinals: PSPB bt Gujarat 3-0; Railways bt North Bengal 3-0.

Women’s final:

PSPB bt North Bengal 3-0 (Poulami Ghatak bt Ankita Das 7-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-8; Neha Aggarwal bt Nandita Saha 13-11, 11-7, 11-6; Madhurika Patkar bt Kasturi Chakraborty 11-5, 11-4, 11-6). Semifinals: PSPB bt Maharashtra ‘A’ 3-0; North Bengal bt West Bengal 3-0.

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