An evergreen paddler and a young Turk

Mouma Das of PSPB was crowned the women’s singles championat the 76th Senior National Table Tennis Championship.-PICS: S. S. KUMAR

Veteran Mouma Das defeated Poulomi Ghatak 4-2 in the final, with Soumyajit Ghosh winning the men’s title by the same margin against top-seed G. Sathiyan. By K. Keerthivasan.

Soumyajit Ghosh was just a kid when Mouma Das won her first senior national crown in Lucknow in the year 2000. 15 years down, Soumyajit, now, has won his second senior national title — in Puducherry — sharing the podium with Mouma.

A lot of Mouma’s contemporaries — N. R. Indu, M. S. Mythili, Anandita Chakraborty and Arul Selvi — have faded away from the national scene, but the 30-year-old, playing in her 20th senior national meet, is still going strong.

“I have to thank Peter Engel (the former national coach). He has guided me in the past and still helps me with my game. He suggested some changes to my serve and backhand after the Patna Nationals in 2014. I have benefited from that,” Mouma says.

Mouma also credits her fitness trainer, Abhijeet Roy Choudhary, for her longevity. “I follow a strict physical fitness regime charted out by Engel and Roy,” she adds.

She defeated Poulomi Ghatak 4-2 in the final, with Soumyajit also winning by the same margin against top-seed G. Sathiyan.

Ghatak — searching for her eighth national title, that would put her on a par with Indu Puri — started brightly in the summit clash, running into an early two-game lead. Mouma, however, courageously fought back, inflicting maximum damage with her vicious flat forehands. She maintained the momentum, winning the next four games to seal the match.

Soumyajit was in fine form throughout the meet, but had to overcome tough challenges from Jubin Kumar (quarterfinals) and Raj Mondal (semifinals) on his way to the final.

There, he was clearly the better paddler, even as Sathiyan tried hard to bridge the gap. Playing in his first senior National final, Sathiyan, at least was not afflicted by frayed nerves, and played some attractive strokes from the back of the table. He, however, had very few answers to Soumyajit’s powerful forehand shots. “From the back of the table, Soumyajit has one of the best games in India,” he admitted.

Soumyajit Ghosh was too good for G. Sathiyan in the men's final.-

For the champion it was an emotional victory and he said, “Emotionally, it was a tough tournament for me as I had to play against close friends like Mondal and Sathiyan.”

India’s top paddler, Achanta Sharat Kamal, had a word of praise for Sathiyan and said, “He will improve as he starts to play more regularly in the pro-Tour and foreign leagues. He just needs to muscle up a little and add more power to his shots.”

Sharath’s absence from the meet created a furore as the Table Tennis Federation of India had made participation in the Nationals mandatory for the paddlers to be eligible to play for the country.

Soumyajit, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and Amalraj — who like Sharath play in the European leagues — participated in the meet even as Sharath expressed his inability as he was playing in the quarterfinals of the European Men’s Challenge.

The TTFI wanted him to participate in the individual event but according to the player he failed to secure a last minute flight ticket to India. The governing body was aggrieved and TTFI Secretary, Dhanraj Choudhary, said: “It’s for Sharath to decide if he wants to play for India.”

Sharath expectedly was not a part of the TTFI-selected squad for the Asian Cup in Jaipur, but has now made it to the meet by the virtue of his world rankings.

However, his inclusion in the five-member men’s team for the World Championship in Suzhou, China and for the Commonwealth Championship in India is still in doubt.