Sharath on a roll

The highest ranked Indian in the world eclipsed former National champion Kamlesh Mehta's record by winning his fifth successive title. Over to Amitabha Das Sharma.

Indian men's table tennis continues to revolve around the excellence of Achanta Sharath Kamal. Having entered the top-40 of the world hierarchy, the strapping player from Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) proved his might by winning a record fifth consecutive title at the National Championships recently.

With Sharath's triumph, the domination of the SDAT-AKG Table Tennis Development Centre was complete as earlier K. Shamini (PSPB), also a product of the Chennai-based academy, had regained the women's singles title. On the broader count, PSPB swept all but the men's doubles title to extend its long-standing supremacy in the national scenario.

The 72nd National and Inter-state championships, which retuned to Kolkata (Netaji Indoor Stadium) after a gap of 17 years, appeared to be preoccupied with how Sharath would create history by retaining the men's singles crown for the fifth successive time. The expectation of a record-breaking victory by Indian table tennis' most accomplished player seemed to be borne by all including Kamlesh Mehta, who had won four successive National titles between 1985 and 1988.

The former National champion, who has won eight National titles — which is still a record — was present at the venue as one of the TTFI (Table Tennis Federation of India) selectors. Kamlesh witnessed Sharath eclipsing his record while performing his role as an expert commentator on television.

Sharath, who spends most of his time in Germany playing for one of the best clubs in the Bundesliga, TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen, is now a vastly improved player. He has risen from a modest 300 something early in the decade to become the most successful Indian player in the international arena. He had a career-best ranking of 39, which came on the back of his triumph in the five-star category Egypt Open in July 2010.

The talented Sharath has all the essential qualities needed for success — hard work, discipline, determination and tact. The 26-year-old, as the top seed, dominated the men's singles, knocking off opponents with his unique brand of aggression and control that he has developed over the years by training and playing with the top players of Europe. Sharath had a series of 4-0 triumphs from the first round until he came up against a resolute Soumyadeep Roy, also of PSPB, in the final.

With the defending champion in domineering form, the men's singles draw saw the hierarchy proving its merit barring a few upsets here and there. The best of the fancied names continued to justify their reputation till the decisive stage of the draw. Apart from Sharath, who was given the top billing taking into consideration his high international ranking, and India No. 1 Soumyadeep, the rest of the big performers, including R. Abhishek (Tamil Nadu), Sourav Chakraborty (PSPB), Pathik Mehta (Gujarat), Sanil Shetty (Maharashtra ‘A') and the young Soumyajit Ghosh (North Bengal), too made it to the quarterfinals.

Unlike Sharath's smooth ascent to the championship round, Soumyadeep stuttered and fumbled a bit on way to the semifinals. Soumyadeep, who had won the National titles in 2000 and 2001, was a much reformed player appearing in his third final after a decade. In the final, his sharpness and speed surprised Sharath, who after winning the first game lapsed into uncharacteristic errors.

Keeping up his aggressive play, Soumyadeep came to within two points of winning the crown by establishing a firm 3-2 lead and going up 9-7 in the sixth game. But he failed to drive home the advantage as Sharath scripted a remarkable come-from-behind victory (4-3).

“His (Sharath's) game is a couple of stages higher than ours, but I was able to match him in the final and could well have pulled off an upset had I not decided to play a bit safe when the title was in my sight,” said Soumyadeep, hinting at a couple of loose points he had played in the sixth game that allowed Sharath to claw back into the match.

PROVING HER CLASS... K. Shamini of PSPB who won her second National title.-PIC: S. PATRONOBISH

“This was his (Soumyadeep's) title which I stole. The way the final went, it would be my most memorable win in the Nationals,” Sharath said while praising the “brilliant” performance of his friend and Indian Oil colleague.

K. Shamini proved her class once again by picking up her second National title in her third successive final. She went about decimating her challengers in workmanlike fashion.

While the defending champion and six-time winner Poulami Ghatak skipped the tournament as she was recovering from a ligament operation, the top seed and four-time champion Mouma Das stumbled out of the contest, losing to Nandita Saha of North Bengal in the quarterfinals.

Shamini, the second seed, faced her biggest challenge in the quarterfinals and semifinals where she met her Petroleum colleagues, the promising Pooja Sahasrabudhe and Madhurika Patkar respectively, but was able to maintain her command despite dropping a few games.

In the final, Shamini had a relatively easy sailing, conceding just one game to Mamta Prabhu of Maharashtra ‘A' before emerging victor.

Having disappointed in the singles, Mouma Das redeemed some pride by winning the women's doubles — partnering Pooja Sahasrabudhe — and the mixed doubles — teaming up with Sourav Chakraborty — crowns.

The only title PSPB missed was the men's doubles which was taken by the Rajasthan pair of Devesh Karia and Jubin Kumar. Though both are Petroleum employees, they chose to represent their state after failing to make it to the PSPB team.

THE RESULTS

Men's singles final: 1-Achanta Sharath Kamal (Petroleum) beat 2-Soumyadeep Roy (Petroleum) 11-9, 7-11, 7-11, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6. Semifinals: Sharath Kamal beat 5-R. Abhishek (TN) 11-9, 11-6, 11-1, 11-5; Soumyadeep beat Soumyajit Ghosh (NB) 11-5, 12-10, 12-10, 9-11, 11-3.

Men's doubles final: Devesh Karia & Jubin Kumar (Rajasthan) beat Sourav Saha & Souvik Kar (WB) 11-8, 8-11, 11-5, 11-7.

Women's singles final: 2-K. Shamini (Petroleum) beat 4-Mamta Prabhu (Maharashtra ‘A') 11-8, 11-6, 10-12, 11-4, 11-7. Semifinals: K. Shamini beat 3-Madhurika Patkar (Petroleum) 11-6, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 11-8; Mamta Prabhu bt Nandita Saha (NB) 11-9, 14-16, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3, 10-12, 11-9.

Women's doubles final: Mouma Das & Pooja Sahasrabudhe (Petroleum) bt Nandita Saha & Ankita Das (NB) 6-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7.

Mixed doubles final: Mouma Das & Sourav Chakraborty (Petroleum) beat Mamta Prabhu & Aman Balgu (Maharashtra ‘A') 11-8, 11-6, 11-8.

Team event — Men's final: Petroleum beat West Bengal 3-2 (Soumyadip Roy lost to Anirban Nandi 3-11, 11-5, 9-11, 6-11; Sourav Chakraborty beat Sourav Saha 11-7, 11-6, 11-9; Anthony Amalraj beat Souvik Kar 11-8, 11-7, 11-6; Soumyadeep lost to Sourav Saha 12-14, 9-11, 11-9, 13-15; Sourav Chakraborty beat Anirban 13-15, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-7).

Women's final: Petroleum beat West Bengal 3-1 (Madhurika Patkar lost to Anindita Chakraborty 3-11, 13-11, 4-11, 9-11; Mouma Das beat Krittika Sinha Roy 11-5, 11-9, 11-2; K. Shamini bt Pallabi Kundu 8-11, 10-12, 13-11, 11-9, 11-6; Mouma beat Anindita 11-7, 11-4, 11-13, 15-13).