Senior Nationals: Sharath Kamal to take on Sathiyan in men's final

While Sharath beat Manush Sah 4-2 in his semifinal, Sathiyan outplayed Sanil Shetty 4-0 in the other to set up an exciting summit clash.

Sharath Kamal of PSPB celebrates after winning his singles semifinal at the 83rd Senior National Table Tennis championship in Shillong on Monday.   -  RITU RAJ KONWAR / The Hindu

Two ageing warhorses in the Indian table tennis circuit, A. Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das both from PSPB showed their young opponents that experience can be a valuable and destructive weapon.

In the 83rd Senior National table tennis championships on Monday, Sharath, who will turn 40 this July, and Mouma, 38 years old, entered the final with identical 4-2 wins over Manush Shah of Gujarat (4-2) and title contender Reeth Rishya (PSPB) (4-2) in the men's and women's semifinals respectively.

While Sharath will be aiming for his 10th National crown, Mouma will be going after her sixth title.

Though it is unfair to place Sharath and Mouma in the same plane—Sharath has been at the top of his game for nearly 20 years while Mouma took a break after attaining motherhood in 2019--the two have been outstanding at the Nationals.

What Mouma has done so far was completely unexpected. Even she didn’t believe that she would come this far.

READ: Senior Nationals: Unseeded Ayhika and Mouma reach semifinals

Her expectations were more towards getting ready for the next domestic season. Reeth, the fourth seed, was the overwhelming favourite coming into the match. But Mouma turned everything upside down. Playing safe and moving pretty well, the five-time National champion didn’t miss a chance to attack and did that quite well. On the other hand, Rishya committed far too many unforced errors and was not comfortable with the pace exerted by Mouma.

“I was just playing my usual game. I just played safe. My strategy has been ‘receive well, push and block and when you get a chance ‘hit’ it’. Moreover, I am playing freely. I have no expectations. May be, my pace is slower and the younger players are finding it difficult to adjust to it,” said Mouma.

The men’s semifinal clash between Sharath and Manush Shah was engaging for the most part. With both being attacking players, it boiled down to just seeing who would blink first.

Especially after a gruelling and long fifth game where Manush failed to convert seven game points. Sharath converted on his third to take it to the sixth.

Sharath ran up a 9-5 lead in the sixth, but Manush fought back to 8-10 before Sharath won the close match.

”His (Manush) serves were very good. I was part guessing them. Manav played very well,” said Sharath, the top seed.

On the men’s final against the second seeded Sathiyan, Sharath said that it was equally poised. We have 1-1 H2H record," he said.

In the other semifinal in men and women, Sathiyan outplayed Sanil Shetty 4-0 while Akula Sreeja entered her first women’s final, defeating Ayhika Mukherjee 4-2.

“I am confident to face Mouma didi. I have to handle well her high toss backhand cut serves,” said Sreeja.

The results (semifinals):

Men: Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Manush Shah (Guj) 9-11, 11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 18-16, 11-8; G. Sathiyan (PSPB) bt Sanil Shetty (PSPB) 11-6, 11-4, 11-7, 11-5.

Women: Akula Sreeja (RBI) Ayhika Mukherjee (RBI) 12-10, 8-11, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 12-10; Mouma Das (PSPB) bt Reeth Rishya (PSPB) 11-9, 11-7, 5-11, 11-5, 12-10.
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