Veteran A. Sharath Kamal and youngster Archana Kamath both scripted history while becoming the singles national champion in men’s and women’s events, respectively, on the concluding day of the 80th 11Sports National Table Tennis Championship.
Kamlesh Mehta had won eight national titles.
While Sharath saved a match point before scraping past his arch-rival and Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) team-mate G. Sathiyan in the grand finale that lived up to its reputation at the packed J.N. Indoor Stadium arena to win a record ninth National championship title, Kamath became the second-youngest female National champion after edging past West Bengal’s Krittwika Sinha Roy.
The evening session was delayed to a prolonged closing ceremony but that didn’t diminish the intensity of all four finalists, who had won scintillating quarter-finals and semi-finals in the morning. Kamath started well but with both the girls tied at 1-1, Roy surged ahead with a 9-4 lead.
Kamath then showed her all-round game to clinch seven points on the go to take the lead. In the fourth game as well, Roy led 9-6 but the 18-year-old again came back with a four-point run to strengthen her lead. Roy returned well in the fifth game to close the margin but couldn’t match Kamath’s speed in the sixth to end up on the losing side in her second appearance in a Nationals final.
The Sharath-Sathiyan affair then lived up to its reputation with the World No. 30 and 31 engaged in a fierce tactical - both in terms of quality and tactics. Despite the toll of playing seven best-of-seven matches in 30 hours, both the paddlers gave all they had in quest of history.
At 10-8 in the fifth game, Sharath had the opportunity to take 3-2 lead but Sathiyan came back to equal scores and Sharath missed the service to hand the game over to his Chennai junior. However, the veteran showed his class by ending up on the winning side in most of the long and unbelievable rallies.
In the decider, Sharath opened up a 5-2 lead but after change of side, he missed a forehand and a backhand top-spin to give Sathiyan a window on and the skinny Sathiyan raced ahead 7-5. At 10-9, Sathiyan got his match point but netted a backhand top-spin to eventually prolong his quest for a maiden National championship title.
Sharath, on the other hand, then converted his third match point to overhaul Mehta’s record and went down on the mat in disbelief.
“The pressure was on both of us. But whatever I did to take the ninth title off my mind, it was coming back again and again with everyone remembering me. Similarly, Sathiyan was going for his first title and he was equally pressured,” said Sharath.
Giving full credit to Sathiyan, Sharath said, “This final was by far the best in terms of quality.” That explains the ferocity and seriousness with which Sathiyan attacked from both flanks and kept me engaged.”
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