Subhajit does it

RAJEEV BHATT

If Subhajit proved critics wrong, women's singles winner Mouma Das entered the final as the favourite having ousted defending champion Poulomi Ghatak in the semifinal match, writes K. KEERTHIVASAN.

Surrounded by a cluster of journalists and photographers at the Sawai Maan Singh Indoor Stadium in Jaipur, Subhajit Saha, 24, was finally living out a dream. The newly-crowned men's National table tennis champion, after five years of waiting, was at last keeping his date with destiny.

In the past, Subhajit — who has always been considered a talented player possessing all the shots in the book — somehow found himself unable to raise his game when the situation demanded it. A national semifinalist on two occasions, in 2002 and 2003, Subhajit gave ample reasons for observers to not take him seriously before the tournament. Coming into his first National final against Sharath Kamal, the top-seed and overwhelming favourite to whom Subhajit had lost six times, few gave the man from Kolkata any chance of winning. Subhajit proved the sceptics wrong. Every rally in the final was closely fought, every point won the hard way. Subhajit showed that when it comes to all-round play he is no less accomplished than Sharath. The away-from-the-table forehand top-spin rallies by both players were top class.

WHAT DID he do differently against a man to whom he had lost so many times? "Against Sharath in the past, there were times when I led 10-7, only to lose because of pressure and tension. This time, I said to myself, `keep focussed, no tension' and it paid off," said Subhajit, who said the month-long camp in China before the Nationals enabled him to fine-tune his technique. "In China, there were three sessions; one on service and returns, another on top-spins, and the third for matches and normal training. These helped me a lot."

In the women's singles final, Mouma Das couldn't control her tears after defeating Montu Ghosh. Mouma knows how things can change in a jiffy in a quick game like table tennis. Having been down 0-3 in last year's final against Poulomi Ghatak, Mouma levelled the scores but lost the seventh game. "I have realised over the years that luck does play a part in one's win," said Mouma. "I didn't have any strategy against Poulumi. I played aggressively and put the rest in the hands of God," said Mouma, who has won three National titles in seven final appearances.

RAJEEV BHATT

However, in the final against veteran Montu, she didn't need the help of fortune. Mouma, 22, peaked at the right time against an opponent playing her fourth final. After her 4-0 drubbing of defending champion Poulomi Ghatak in the semifinal, Mouma was the overwhelming favourite and remained so till the end of the summit clash.

"My confidence was down after a poor performance in the Zonals," said Mouma. "The month-long camp in China helped me regain my touch."

BUBBLE BOY

An umpire officiating the men's singles final later told the media that Sharath Kamal played with a racquet that had four or five bubbles on the forehand side. If, as Sharath says, he saw the bubble in his racquet as early as in the third game, couldn't he have changed it? Sharath said that he didn't ask for the change because he did not have a replacement with him.

"When a racquet becomes unplayable as it happened in Sharath's case, it's disadvantageous to the opponent also as he finds it difficult to understand the spin," said international referee N. Ganeshan. Two-times National champion M. S. Mythili said that what happened to Sharath was "a rare thing to happen." She said that it is usual for players to use one glued racquet for a period of five days.

THE RESULTS

Team event: Men (final): PSPB bt. RSPB 3-1 (A. Sharath Kamal bt Saurav Chakraborty 9-11, 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-8; Soumyadeep Roy lost to A. Amal Raj 11-8, 8-11, 4-11, 11-9, 4-11; Subhajit Saha bt. Anirban Nandi 12-10, 6-11, 5-11, 13-11, 11-6; Soumyadeep Roy bt. Saurav Chakraborty 11-6, 5-11, 11-7, 2-11, 11-7); Third place: Maharashtra `A' and Gujarat; Women (final): PSPB bt. North Bengal 3-0 (Mouma Das bt Nandita Saha 9-11, 6-11, 11-9, 13-11, 12-10; Poulomi Ghatak bt. Sumana Bose 11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 11-3; K. Shamini bt. Kasturi Chakraborty 11-8, 11-9, 11-3); Third place: Maharashtra `B' & WB; Men singles (final): Subhajit Saha (PSPB) bt. A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) 11-5, 4-11, 8-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9, 11-6; Semifinals: Sharath Kamal bt. A. Amalraj (RSPB) 11-6, 11-6, 6-11, 11-5, 11-1; Subhajit Saha bt. S. Raman (IOC) 11-5, 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-9; Women singles (final): Mouma Das (PSPB) bt. Montu Ghosh (PSPB) 11-2, 11-7, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6; Semifinals: Mouma Das bt. Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) 11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 11-9; Montu Ghosh bt. K. Shamini (PSPB) 11-9, 7-11, 15-13, 11-9, 4-11, 13-11; Men's doubles winners: Shubham Choudhary and Arunava Ganguly; Women's doubles winners: Kasturi Chakraborty and Nandita Saha; Mixed doubles winners: Sharath Kamal and Poulomi Ghatak.