Teenaged National champion Archana Kamath showed the stuff she is made of when she took India across the finish-line with a gallant display in the deciding rubber of a round-of-32 contest against fancied Sweden at the ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament in Gondomar, Portugal, on Wednesday.
Thanks to her efforts, the Indian women’s team registered a 3-2 win to book a spot in the pre-quarterfinals.
Earlier, Indian men, ranked ninth as a team, expectedly beat 50th-ranked Luxembourg 3-0, but not before G. Sathiyan saved a match-point and Sharath dropped a set.
After Manika Batra twice levelled the match by winning her singles against lower-ranked rivals, 135th-ranked Archana bounced back from 1-2 against 75th-ranked Linda Bergstrom and won the nerve-wrecking deciding set on extended points, 11-8, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11.
Indian women, ranked four places below Sweden at 23rd in the world, now play eighth-ranked Romania on Friday, when Indian men play Slovenia, ranked 14th. There are nine qualifying spots for Olympics from this event.
After Sharath and Harmeet Desai gave India a winning start following a close second set where the pair saved two set-points, World No. 30 Sathiyan ran into unexpected trouble against bespectacled Luka Mladenovic, ranked 211. Sathiyan lost the first two sets and even faced a match-point at 10-11 in the fourth before the Indian raced away with three straight points stay alive in the match.
As Sathiyan told Sportstar after the match, “I think he was [a] very odd player. It’s been like ages since I played someone using long pimples (on the backhand side). So it took some time for me to get used to it. He was also very quick and had lots of variations. I think that was the main issue for me in the beginning.
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“In the second, after coming up and settling down, I shouldn’t have lost that set. I made some errors there. I was expecting a good match. I’m happy I kept my cool in the end-points and I could come out on the winning side. And it’s also good to play such a close match at the beginning [of the campaign]. Your body is pumped up and your mind is more awakened.”
Finishing the job
Thereafter, it was left to Sharath, ranked 33rd, to finish the job. He captured two sets at 11-3 and made Eric Glod look clueless. But in the third, Glod jumped to a 6-1 lead before Sharath moved ahead at 8-7. However, there was no respite for Sharath. He saved three set-points, squandered a match-point and dropped the set.
In the fourth, Sharath led 5-2 and then broke away from 6-5 to win the last five points.
“You know, I can’t finish a match too early. So after 11-3, 11-3, I had to give away one set,” said Sharath in zest and continued, “I’m quite happy with the way we won, especially after Sathiyan made it from being match-point down. In doubles, we did well. Harmeet and I certainly struggled a bit but then it was fine. In singles, I found quite good rhythm in the first few points. I’m feeling good.
“Now the next one against Slovenia is going to be pretty close with all their players around. We haven’t played against each other that much but I hope we can convert our chances.”
- Men: India bt Luxembourg 3-0 (Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai bt Gilles Michely and Eric Glod 11-9, 16-14, 11-6; G. Sathiyan bt Luka Mladenovic 8-11, 9-11, 11-3, 13-11, 11-6; Sharath bt Glod 11-3, 11-3, 12-14, 11-5).
- Women: India bt Sweden 3-2 (Archana Kamath and Ayhika Mukherjee lost to Christina Kallberg and Matilda Ekholm 7-11, 10-12, 15-17; Manika Batra bt Linda Bergstrom 11-4, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7; Ayhika lost to Matilda 5-11. 13-11, 6-11, 7-11; Manika bt Christina 10-12, 11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 11-7; Archana bt Linda 11-8, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11).