There is something about the Tau Devi Lal Stadium at Panchkula that brings out the best in S. F. R. Snehit. When this reigning National youth champion last played here in the 2018 North Zone ranking event, he took out Sharath Kamal on this way to the final.
On Monday, fitter-and-stronger Snehit renewed his romance with this classy venue by knocking out third seeded defending champion Harmeet Desai and sixth seed Sushmit Sriram to gatecrash into the semi-finals of the National table tennis championship.
Previous round report|
Even as Snehit, 20, was enjoying his best day in the Nationals, more illustrious names like Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan and Manav Thakkar took their allotted spots in the semifinals. Interestingly, the semifinalists won 4-1.
Sharath and Sathiyan - Snehit’s mentors - stayed on course of their much-anticipated final clash at the expense of two former National champions, A. Amalraj and Sanil Shetty.
The scoreline for Sharath could have read a lot different had Amalraj not missed converting a game point in the fourth game for a 2-2 deadlock. But once Sharath led 3-1, a frustrated and a fast-tiring Amalraj committed far too many errors to trail 1-7 in the fifth game and never tested his senior rival.
Sathiyan carried on with his form by winning all three matches today with an identical 4-1 scoreline. Against Manush Shah in the pre-quarterfinals, Sathiyan had to rally from 3-7 in three different games before going on to beat left-handed Shetty.
Thakkar stopped Ronit Bhanja in a match laced with long rallies. Bhanja had earlier saved four match-points against Sudhanshu Grover for a memorable 4-3 win in the pre-quarterfinals. For the record, Sharath will face Thakkar and Sathiyan plays his former sparring partner Snehit, in the semifinals.
But the day truly belonged to Snehit who got into the groove to perform bigger tricks by scalping Sourav Saha in the third round this morning. This helped him break the jinx of losing before the pre-quarterfinals in the championship.
Against Harmeet, Snehit’s ploy to test the champion on his feared backhand surprisingly worked like a charm. Harmeet, known for his controlled ‘banana flick’ on his returns from the backhand, was forced into errors by a relentless Snehit.
With Harmeet’s confidence dented with every passing point of the first two games, Snehit could sense a chance to pull off the biggest upset of the day.
“I kept my cool and remembered my psychologist Ankita Jain’s words to stay in the moment. I knew I had a chance and built it point by point,” said the Hyderabadi who eventually raced away to a 4-0 win.
Up next was Sushmit, a player who uses two different kinds of defensive rubbers on his racquet. “I have never played with anyone with this combination of rubbers so it took me time to read the returns,” revealed Snehit.
No wonder, the youngster never led until 10-10 in the second game. Lucky to get the game-point after the ball struck Sriram’s finger close to the table, Snehit made it 1-1. This proved the turning point, as Snehit’s the free-flowing game was in full bloom in the remainder of the match.
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