Amalraj and Manika Batra bag their first title of the season

Amalraj rallies to beat Sharath as Manika overcomes Sutirtha.

A. Amalraj beat Sharath Kamal in the men’s final and Manika Batra, trumped Sutirtha Mukherjee in the women’s final of the LIC-IOC South Zone National-ranking table tennis tournament.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar

A. Amalraj shouted in elation as he beat Sharath Kamal in the men’s final of the LIC-IOC South Zone National-ranking table tennis tournament at the District Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.

Amalraj’s first title of the season, with a 4-3 (5-11, 8-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-5, 11-8, 11-4)
triumph over India’s star paddler, was memorable considering it was his first South Zone crown in his career.

For Manika Batra, who put it across Sutirtha Mukherjee 4-2 (11-4, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11, 11-7) in the women’s final, it was her first title of the season. “In India, I am always under pressure to maintain my rankings. I am happy that I could overcome it,” said the 22-year-old, who had lost early in two previous tournaments.

What a way to bag the title as Amalraj, India No. 13 came back from losing the first three games tamely. “Winning the Arjuna Award was great. That was an ambition since my childhood. And I deserved it as I had won all the medals from Nationals, National-ranking tournaments, South Asian Games gold, Commonwealth Games medals. Winning here against Sharath after losing to him in the semifinals of the previous tournament (All-India inter-institutional) was special. That’s why I was so overjoyed,” said Amalraj.

The way he defeated G. Sathiyan, the second seed, in the semifinals gave an indication of the form that Amalraj was in.

Sharath falters after flying start

Sharath blew away the 31-year-old with his power-packed backhand and forehand top-spins, and he was toying with Amalraj’s serve as well in the first three games.

The fourth game however saw Sharath commit far too many errors. Amalraj on the other hand, played within himself, pushing the top seed on the counters and finishing the points. He came up trumps in the short game as well, especially in the sixth and seventh games.

Meanwhile Manika, using long pimple on her backhand, was exceptionally good, varying the directions. Her backhand push down-the-line caught the second seed on the wrong foot. On counters, too, Manika was effective, with her forehand to-spin shots.

With the scores tied at 2-games each, the fifth game was evenly poised. Sutirtha had a game point at 10-9, but Manika, who came through the qualifiers, delivered on her forehand. The fifth game turned out to be a breeze for the former National champion.

The next two days will witness junior, sub-junior and cadet boys and girls events.

The results:

Men: (Final): A. Amalraj (PSPB) bt A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) 5-11, 8-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-5, 11-8, 11-4; (Semifinals): Sharath bt Manav Thakkar (PSPB) 9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-4, 15-13, Amalraj bt Sathiyan (PSPB) 11-4, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6, 11-4.

Women: (Final): Manika Batra (PSPB) bt Suthirtha Mukherjee (WB) 11-4, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11, 11-7; (Semifinals): Manika bt Madhurika Patkar (PSPB) 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 10-12, 11-3, Suthirtha bt Archana Kamath (PSPB) 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9.

Youth Boys: Final: Manav Thakkar (PSPB) bt Lalrin Puia (Miz) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9.

Youth Girls: Final: Moumita Datta (AAI) bt Archana G. Kamath (PSPB) 11-6, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6.

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