Experience rules the roost

TABLE TENNIS enthusiasts must have blinked their eyes in disbelief at the men's final line-up of the 66th Senior National tournament.

D. RAVI SHANKAR

TABLE TENNIS enthusiasts must have blinked their eyes in disbelief at the men's final line-up of the 66th Senior National tournament. S. Raman and Arup Basak were to vie for the title. It looked as if the time clock had been turned back by a decade or so. But it was all too true. Raman and Basak, in their mid-thirties and veterans on the table tennis circuit, had played out of their skins at the Reliance Township of Lodhivali, near Panvel, beating their younger rivals in thrilling semi-finals.

S. Raman... a sterling show.-VIVEK BENDRE

Before coming to the final contest, one must take a look at the virtually unbelievable performances of Raman and Basak in the quarter-finals. Raman, seeded eighth, was pitted against A. Sharath Kamal, the top-seed and even the wildest punter would have had reservations about tipping Raman as the winner.

Sharath, in ominous form, had been playing in club tournaments abroad and was scheduled to fly out to Sweden immediately after this tournament. Everyone thought it would be a cakewalk for Sharath.

That is everybody except Raman and his wife-cum-coach Bhuvaneswari. Sharath began the semi-final with a predictable 11-4 win in the first game. But thereafter it was Raman who dictated terms. The 36-year-old southpaw from Chennai who turns out for the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board was all elegance as he stroked his way to victory in the next three games.

If Sharath Kamal landed a booming smash, Raman was in position to effortlessly send back the return often catching Sharath on the wrong-foot. Raman streaked to win the second game 11-9 and then rubbed it in, winning the third at 11-5. Sharath's confidence was severely dented when Raman also took the fourth game at 11-7.

Sharath made a recovery to win the fifth game, but Raman retained his poise to win the sixth game conceding only three points to Sharath.

It was a shattering blow to Sharath and despite his win in the men's doubles final along with Ranbir Das, he was in a daze even when he left Lodhivali, the tournament venue.

Arup Basak's 4-1 win over Aniket Koparkar in the quarterfinal was not a huge upset. It was a triumph of experience over youth. But Basak's semi-final win over Soumyadeep Roy was certainly a major upset. Basak and Soumyadeep played attacking table tennis with high-speed backhand rallies being prominent. The contest reached epic heights in the decider. Arup kept Soumyadeep guessing and with the scores tied at 8-8 the latter cracked under pressure.

Pouloumi Ghatak... keeping her nerves.-VIVEK BENDRE

Raman's semi-final against southpaw Sourav Chakraborty of Railways was like a discourse from a master to a pupil. Sourav often looked befuddled as Raman languidly sent the ball to the corners of the table. Often laced with loads of spin Raman's returns found Sourav unable to cope as he surrendered abjectly.

The stage was set for the clash of the seniors. Raman began in his exploratory fashion. He tested out long-time rival Arup Basak's game plan to a nicety and though Basak took the first game of the final at 11-8, it was Raman who had come out stronger. The second game was a Raman blitz. He turned aggressor with such ferocity that Arup was mentally annihilated. At the end of the second game Arup Basak had just one point to show. The `Raman Effect' had been enforced.

Though Basak made a brave fightback in the next two games, taking his score up to eight and seven, respectively, it was a lost cause. Arup recovered to win the fifth game but with Bhuvaneswari spurring her husband on, Raman closed out the match in the sixth game. The Maharaja of Pitapuram trophy and a cheque for Rs. 1,40,000 were the spoils of victory for Raman.

Quite in contrast to the men's singles final was the women's contest for the title. The top-seed Poulomi Ghatak and second-seed Mouma Das too have met head to head on a number of occasions. Poulomi's recent form had put her ahead in the ranking, but Mouma was itching to upstage her doubles partner. Possibly, the pair's loss in the women's doubles title match to N.R Indu and Mantu Ghosh had been put under the scanner and blame apportioned leaving Mouma chafing to prove a point.

Poulomi streaked to a three-game lead as soon as the contest began. She must have been a trace overconfident after that and that gave Mouma a chance. Mouma began her fightback trailing 5-8 in the fourth game. A series of well-placed shots saw her level the scores and keep up the momentum to win the fourth game.

Mouma kept up the winning streak and after winning the fifth game quite comfortably tightened the screws in the sixth. Poulomi, suddenly rattled by Mouma's growing confidence, was able to pick up only three points in the sixth game.

The decider was a nail-biting affair. Both Poulomi and Mouma had their sights on the trophy and the cash award. Mouma went ahead to reach match point, but Poulomi levelled the scores at 10-10.

The top-seed Poulomi then had a match point and when she won it her relief was evident as she collapsed on the court and sobbed uncontrollably.

Mouma showed fine sportsmanship as she went with a towel and congratulated Poulomi.

Arup Basak and Nandita Saha won the mixed doubles title beating Rajesh and J. Swarna of Tamil Nadu.

The results

Men's singles (final): Maharaja of Pitapuram Cup: S. Raman (PSPB) bt Arup Basak (PSPB) 9-11, 11-1, 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 11-8.

Semi-finals: Raman bt Sourav Chakraborty(RSPB) 11-4, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7; Arup Basak bt Soumyadeep Roy (PSPB) 11-4, 11-7, 2-11, 7-11, 11-9, 3-11, 11-8.

Women's Singles (final): The Travancore Cup: Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) bt Mouma Das (PSPB): 11-9, 11-7, 11-6, 8-11, 7-11, 3-11, 12-10.

Semi-finals: Poulomi Ghatak bt N. R. Indu (PSPB) 11-8, 12-14, 11-7, 11-6, 12-10; Mouma Das bt Nandita Saha (PSPB) 11-6, 11-4, 11-9, 11-9.

Men's Doubles (final): Yuvaraj Pitapuram Cup: A. Sharath Kamal & Ranvir Das (PSPB) bt Soumyadeep Roy & Subhajit Saha (PSPB) 11-9, 13-11, 8-11, 12-10.

Women's Doubles (final): Khorana Cup: N. R. Indu & Mantu Ghosh (PSPB) bt Poulomi Ghatak & Mouma Das (PSPB) 5-11, 11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 11-6.

Mixed Doubles: Susan Barna Cup: Arup Basak & Nandita Saha (PSPB) bt S. Rajesh & J. Swarna (Tamil Nadu) 11-8, 13-11, 11-7.

Team Events: Men: Petroleum Sports Promotion Board bt Railways Sports Promotion Board 3-1 (A. Sharath Kamal bt Anirban Nandy 11-7, 6-11, 12-10, 11-3; Soumyadeep Roy lost to Sourav Chakraborty 13-15, 11-8, 11-9, 6-11, 5-11; Subhajit Saha bt Prithviraj Bose 8-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-4; Sharath Kamal bt Sourav Chakraborty 11-4, 11-8, 11-9).

Women: PSPB bt RSPB 3-0 (Poulomi Ghatak bt Mamta Prabhu 11-2, 11-7, 11-4; Mouma Das bt Anindita Chakraborty 11-9, 11-8, 5-11, 11-7; N. R. Indu bt S. Prasanna Devi 11-8, 11-9, 8-11, 14-12.