Leading Chennai Lions to the Ultimate Table Tennis title was a high point for ace paddler Sharath Kamal this week. He credited the balanced team — comprising Germany’s Petrissa Solja as the sheet anchor — for the success.
“This season we had a fantastic team. The main factor [for the win] was Petrissa. She has already qualified for [Tokyo] Olympics in the European Games in both the team and mixed doubles. This is Tiago’s [Apolonia] third season and he knows how it works,” said Sharath.
Elaborating on the chemistry with Petrissa, Sharath said they had to contribute nine points in every tie. “Me and Petty [Petrissa] had nine points in every tie together. She had three singles and three mixed doubles while I played the same number of matches. I have to say that Petty was in fantastic form and she went on to win the best player of the tournament award,” said the Commonwealth Games champion.
Lions did not have a good start to the tournament. They lost to U Mumba TT but slowly picked steam. The semifinal victory over Goa Challengers motivated the Lions to go for the kill in the final.
“For us, the best team was Goa that had Cheng-I-Ching, women’s world No.9, India’s A. Amalraj and Archana Kamath. Both were in fine form, along with the foreign player Alvaro Robles [Spain]. We were trailing 1-5 but fought back to level at 6-6. And Madhurika Patkar won a tough final match against Archana. We came back from the jaws of defeat and that helped us be strong in the final," said the 37-year-old.
Playing against the defending champion Dabang Delhi in the final was always going to be tough, but what made things easy for Lions was Tiago’s fabulous display against India’s No.1 player G. Sathiyan, where the former beat the Indian 3-0. “Tiago was in great shape. His win over Sathiyan gave us the momentum. Dabang is a one-man army [Sathiyan]. Once we took Sathiyan out, we were very confident,” said Sharath.
Sharath gave a thumbs-up to the new UTT format. “I am really happy with the format. It is very short, compact and very intense. There were lots of emotions and expressions which were captured well on television. That we could finish each tie in around two hours was encouraging. I think this year, UTT found its mojo. It was a packed stadium in the final. From here, it will only go upwards. The viewership has gone up, the production values were top-class. So many moments were captured well on television, which increased people’s interest in the sport.”
On the road to Olympic qualification, the next major assignment for the Indian table tennis teams (men and women) will be the World Team Qualification Championship in Gondomor, Portgual from January 22 to 26 in 2020.
Sharath believes the team has a fair chance to make it to Tokyo. “If we qualify as a team, then the top two places are guaranteed in singles. That makes a lot of things easier for all of us. We’ll have enough time to prepare for Tokyo,” he said.
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