New venue, new champs

Zubin Kumar... making waves at the senior level.-RAJEEV BHATT

Playing at a high altitude — Gangtok, 5600 feet — presented a different kind of challenge to the players. The ones who adjusted to the conditions better emerged triumphant. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Two new champions at a new venue — that, in short, was the story of the 39th All India Inter-Institutional table tennis championship, held in Gangtok, the capital of the exotic Himalayan state of Sikkim. The former National youth and junior champions, Zubin Kumar and Pooja Sahasrabudhe, made waves on the senior stage, winning the men’s and women’s singles crowns respectively. Pooja also earned a double by winning the mixed doubles title in the company of Aniket Koparkar.

Zubin and Pooja also helped the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) underline its supremacy in the team events. PSPB won both the men’s and women’s titles.

The venue — Paljor Namgyal Indoor Stadium — also offered a new challenge to the players’ resilience and adaptability. Gangtok — which is at an altitude of 5,600 feet — offered unusual playing conditions thanks to its geographical location. It was for the first time that a tournament of this stature was hosted at a high altitude venue, and the players, including the fancied ones, had to adopt ingenious skills to control the ball in a relatively rarefied atmosphere. “This is a good test for the players. They should know how to adjust to the situation,” said the National coach Massimo Costantini, who was rather amused to see the ball travel faster. “It is plain science that the ball travels faster through the air receiving less resistance in higher altitudes,” added the renowned coach from Italy.

Some players failed to come to terms with this basic principle of physics and floundered.

The tournament, ranked only next to the Nationals, saw almost all the big names taking part with the exception of the country’s only international player and National champion Achanta Sharath Kamal, who was busy with an assignment abroad and five-time women’s champion Poulami Ghatak, who was present for a day before going away to receive the Arjuna Award.

The initial rounds of the individual events saw the men’s and women’s top seeds tumbling along with a few other favourites. The lesser-ranked players enjoyed better fortune. Top-seeded Sourav Chakraborty and K. Shamini failed to get past the third round, losing against unseeded opponents. Sourav, the elegant southpaw who became the men’s No. 1 with a fairly good showing the previous season, failed to control his shots and eventually surrendered to R. Abhishek of Dena Bank. K. Shamini, seeded No. 1 in the women’s section, also had a torrid experience against the junior National champion, Ankita Das, who played an aggressive game. Shamini went down in straight games. Ankita, however, failed to repeat her performance in the quarterfinals as she lost to Nandita Saha of PSPB, who eventually reached the final.

The men’s section saw more number of upsets with second-seeded Subhajit Saha being the only fancied name to reach the semifinals. R. Abhishek, with his unusually defensive play, was the most notable performer. Having despatched the top seed he moved into the semifinals by beating another PSPB player Devesh Karia in the quarters. Having taken Dena Bank almost single-handedly to the team final, Abhishek assumed an aura of invincibility beating almost everyone he faced.

Divya Deshpande of ONGC also caused a couple of upsets in reaching the women’s semfinals. She played brilliantly to put paid to the hopes of the flamboyant India No. 2, Neha Agarwal, and Kasturi Chakraborty, a player from the National senior camp. Former national champion Mouma Das too suffered a reverse, losing to Preeti Mokashi of Maharashtra in the second round.

Soumyadeep Roy... a fine comeback after an injury lay-off.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Zubin lined himself up for the title by defeating the seemingly invincible R. Abhishek in the semifinals. He carefully altered his attacking pattern to take Abhishek by surprise.

Soumyadeep Roy, a former National champion, announced his return from a prolonged injury lay-off by beating Subhajit Saha in the other semifinal.

The men’s final was evenly contested but Zubin’s exuberance and his eagerness to try different shots enabled him to get the better of Soumyadeep. Southpaw Zubin, who won the National youth title in 2007, emerged winner following an interesting sequence where the two finalists won games alternately. Zubin won 11-9, 17-19, 11-8, 4-11, 11-8, 3-11, 11-7.

Nandita Saha stopped the giant-killing run of young Divya in the semifinals to make her first entry into a major final after a long break. Pooja, playing confidently and consistently in the other half of the draw, got the better of her friend, second-seeded Madhurika Patkar, in the other semifinal.

The final was virtually one-sided. Nandita erred too frequently as Pooja, the junior National champion in 2006, posted a comfortable victory.

Dena Bank, in the absence of the dissolved Bank Sports Board, reached the men’s team final where it lost to PSPB 3-1. It failed to enter the title round in the women’s section, losing to the eventual champion PSPB. In the final, PSPB defeated Railways 3-1.

THE RESULTS TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP

Men’s final: Petroleum bt Dena Bank 3-1. Semifinals: Petroleum bt Airports Authority of India 3-2; Dena Bank bt Air India 3-1.

Women’s final: Petroleum bt Railways 3-1. Semifinals: Petroleum bt Dena Bank 3-1; Railways bt Air India 3-1.

INDIVIDUAL OPEN EVENTS

Men’s singles final: Zubin Kumar (PSPB) bt Soumyadeep Roy (PSPB) 11-9, 17-19, 11-8, 4-11, 11-8, 3-11, 11-7. Semifinals: Zubin bt R. Abhishek (DB) 11-2, 11-3, 11-9, 5-11, 11-3; Soumyadeep bt Subhajit Saha (PSPB) 11-6, 11-8, 6-11, 11-6, 13-11.

Doubles final: Anirban Nandi & Sayan Paul Roy (RSPB) bt Arunava Ganguly & Rajiv Ghai (PSPB) 6-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-5.

Women’s singles final: Pooja Sahasrabudhe (PSPB) bt Nandita Saha (PSPB) 12-10, 11-6, 16-14, 11-6. Semifinals: Nandita bt Divya Deshpande (ONGC) 7-11, 11-7, 7-11, 13-11, 5-11, 11-6, 11-9; Pooja bt Madhurika Patkar (PSPB) 11-5, 5-11, 13-11, 11-8, 5-11, 6-11, 11-9.

Doubles final: Prajakta Tipale & Pallavi Kundu (RSPB) bt Anindita Chakraborty & Sayantika Kundu (RSPB) 11-9, 12-14, 8-11, 11-7, 11-9.

Mixed doubles final: Aniket Koparkar & Pooja (PSPB) bt Zubin & Mouma Das (PSPB) 9-11, 12-10, 12-10, 3-11, 11-6.