Raman proves too good for Sharath Kamal

S. Raman proved his mastery at the table in the men's final-Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

ACHANTA SHARATH KAMAL, the lanky 21-year-old from Chennai, is an exciting potential but the reality is that he has some way to go, as veteran state colleague S. Raman subdued his attacking instincts to emerge a convincing winner.

The 19-year-old Nandita Saha, from day one showed her potential and realised it with a giant killing spree, to crown herself the women's champion.

The two champions richly deserved the glittering trophies and the winner's cheque of Rs. 60,000 and Rs. 40,000, respectively in the Mayors Cup All India Invitation Table Tennis Championship held at the KGS Club premises, recently.

That Raman, who did have a string of tough matches en route to the final, was better prepared was exemplified by Sharath's statement: "probably a tough match against left hander Sourav Chakraborty would have helped me... the semis proved easy and gave me a misplaced confidence''.

Raman, a Senior Sales Manager in Indian Oil, Chennai, admitted to his lack of fitness. "Only practiced for the last two weeks, when I knew about this tournament, hence a few extended matches in the league. In the final too after going 3-0 up felt tired and conceded two successive games to Sharath, before shutting off the challenge,'' said Raman. His 11-3, 11-9, 12-10, 5-11, 10-12, 13-11 win however proved his mastery of the situation at the table.

Sharath's penchant for looping drives and vicious forehand top-spin did make the difference in the earlier rounds. Raman however varied his pace and killed the spin with effective jabs and chops which saw the ball virtually `die' on Sharath.

"I've not won against Raman in the four meetings we had,'' said Sharath and admitted that "his strategy was wrong. Tried too many things at the start, which did not come off,'' conceded the youngster, who has had some impressive victories in the World championship qualifiers, which ended in a first round defeat in the main draw.

Raman too had a word of praise for the youngster, "Sharath is indeed good...he should go a long way''.

But the final proved anything but a contest, thanks to Raman's subtle variations. Running up a handy lead the 33-year-old did relax a wee-bit and that was enough leeway for Sharath to pull back two games. In the sixth game too, Raman did allow the match to drift conceding two negative points when 10-8 up. Sharath did manage to draw level at 10-all and even went 11-10 up before the left hander induced the youngster to drive wildly twice to wrap up the game and title.

Sharath had to settle for Rs. 40,000 and the runner-up trophy.

Ranbir Das, the 19-year-old from RSCB and teammate Sourav Chakraborty played consistently well through the league. Though Ranbir did stretch Raman in the semis, lack of experience did tell in the final analysis as the veteran subdued the youngster's enthusiasm with controlled aggression.

The men's field, for the top 16 players besides four local entries, did look competitive despite the absence of Soumyadeep Roy, Subhajit Saha (Sr), Shivaji Dutta, Arjun Dutta and Arup Basak. While a few were busy with the camp at Ajmer, the rest opted out for varied reasons. In the process a few talents like Amit Das from Centre of Excellence (CoE), Kolkata, Prithviraj Bose and Amit Mukherjee (Bengal) got a look in besides Karnataka's Uday S. Athreya and Karthik.

Raman for his sheer experience stood tall among men and deservingly walked away with the winner's purse of Rs. 60,000, the richest in the local circuit.

On the distaff side, N.R. Indu's absence did create a void but the presence of Mouma Das, Montu Ghosh, Poulomi Ghatak and Pradeepa, all from PSPB did give the tourney a tinge of glamour. But it was eighth ranked 19-year-old Nandita Saha, who stole the thunder.

A relative upstart, Nandita's only previous success came in the South Zone championship in 2001 against Mouma Das. At Bangalore again it was Mouma who was jolted in the league stage and in the final.

A loss to M. S. Mythili (also PSPB) in five thrilling games in a group `A' clash, was just the tonic that Nandita was looking for. Brushing the loss aside Nandita got past Mouma, aided by a spate of mistakes from the top seed, in the league stage causing a three way tie in the group. Mouma's 3-1 win over Mythili helped Nandita squeak through to the knock-out stage, but it also helped the youngster grow in confidence which she displayed with a series of upsets against the likes of Poulomi Ghatak and Montu Ghosh besides Mouma, twice.

Nandita, a second year B.A. student of Siliguri College, trains with Mouma. But at the table there was no mercy shown. Employing her forehand top spin to deadly effect, Nandita cornered her rivals into giving her the room to free her forehand. Nandita also showed good reflexes and speed to counter the flat smashes from Mouma.

Both Poulomi and Montu on the other hand hardly offered resistance and committed too many mistakes to ensure a quick finish for Nandita.

T. Pradeepa, the India No. 4, did show fighting qualities. Against teammate Bhuvaneswari in the quarters, Pradeepa was down 0-3 before pulling off a sensational victory, winning the last four games.

Among the rest, Kasturi Chakraborthy and Vishaka Bijoy looked good bets for the future. Kasturi who won a double — the junior and senior Nationals in 1998, as a junior — did give her more fancied adverseries tough fight but could not translate those into victories.

V. Ranjitha took the oppurtunity of playing the top guns in the right spirit and even took a game off Montu Ghosh in the league.

The timing of the tournament did hit some of the leading players as well, who claimed that there was not enough notice for them to practice and attain peak fitness levels.

The results:

Men's final: S. Raman bt A. Sharath Kamal 11-3, 11-9, 12-10, 5-11, 10-12, 13-11; Semifinals: S. Raman bt Ranbir Das 7-11, 7-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-5; A. Sharath Kamal bt Sourav Chakraborty 11-6, 11-7, 12-10, 11-8; Quarter finals: S. Raman (PSPB) bt Shubham Choudhary (RSCB) 12-10, 9-11, 11-7, 11-2, 11-2; Ranbir Das (RSCB) bt R. Rajesh (LIC) 7-11, 11-7, 10-12, 11-5, 11-6, 11-8; Sourav Chakraborty bt Pathik Mehta (Guj) 11-5, 11-7, 10-12, 12-10, 11-8; A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Bhushan Thakur (RSCB) 11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 11-4.

Women's final: Nandita Saha bt Mouma Das 11-7, 12-10, 12-10, 11-8. Semifinals: Mouma Das bt T. Pradeepa 11-9, 11-7, 6-11, 7-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-7. Nandita Saha bt Montu Ghosh 11-5, 13-11, 11-6, 13-11; Quarterfinals: Mouma Das (PSPB) bt V. Ranjitha (Knt) 11-4, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10; T. Pradeepa (PSPB) bt B. Bhuvaneswari (PSPB) 6-11, 5-11, 13-15, 11-6, 11-6, 11-7, 11-5; Nandita Saha (PSPB) bt Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) 11-7, 11-4, 11-3, 11-6; Montu Ghosh (PSPB) bt Vishaka Bijoy (RSCB) 11-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 8-11, 12-10. —

Avinash Nair