Sharath Kamal loses to Ma Long 4-1 in third round at Tokyo Olympics

Sharath’s defeat meant India’s campaign in table tennis has come to an end. While Sharath and Manika Batra lost to the eventual bronze medallist pair from Chinese Taipei in the mixed doubles (round of 16), Manika bowed out in the women's singles third round.

Even against a rusty Long, Sharath had to raise the level of his game to be competitive.   -  REUTERS

A. Sharath Kamal played his heart out before going down 1-4 to Ma Long of China in a men’s singles round of 32 contest on Tuesday. Sharath lost 7-11, 11-8, 11-13, 4-11, 4-11.

Though he lost the best-of-seven match in five games, the fact that Sharath rattled Long for a majority of the 46-minute battle underlined his prowess.

Long, the second seed here, is regarded as one of the greatest paddlers in the modern era, having won three consecutive World Championships and the singles gold in Rio 2016.

A seasoned campaigner, Sharath realised that Long, with byes in the first two rounds, would be playing his first match in Tokyo and he had to press hard to put his opponent under pressure.

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Even against a rusty Long, Sharath had to raise his level to be competitive. The Indian, choosing to play close to the table, managed just that, his top-spin returns from both flanks and flicks while returning the side-spin serves unsettling Long.

After losing the first game,  Sharath opened up an 8-4 lead. Long closed it down to 8-7, forcing India coach Soumyadeep Roy to call for a time-out.

The next point witnessed the longest rally of the match, with Long levelling scores after a 12-shot exchange. However, Sharath produced three consecutive winners to make it 1-1.

Taking a game off a Chinese paddler, especially at the Olympics, is one of the toughest tasks. And Sharath didn’t just stop there. He continued to look threatening.

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With either player unable to open up a sizeable gap in the third game, Sharath saved two game-points at 8-10 to take it into an extended tie-break.

After Sharath came up with two successive backhand top-spins on his serve, at 12-11, Long took a time-out, broke Sharath’s rhythm and sealed the game.

Though the next two games saw Long run away with it, the 39-year-old Sharath had every reason to be pleased with his performance.

With Sharath's defeat, India’s table tennis campaign came to an end. While Sharath and Manika Batra lost to the eventual bronze medallist pair from Chinese Taipei in the mixed doubles round of 16, Manika made it to the women’s round of 32 before bowing out.

The two Olympic debutants - G. Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee - exited in the round of 64. Barring Sathiyan, the others either justified their billing or exceeded expectations.

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