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Sharath Kamal, Poulomi triumph

By Rakesh Rao

Photo: R.V. Moorthy

SINGLES WINNERS: Sharath Kamal and Poulomi Ghatak.

MANESAR (Haryana) Dec. 19. A. Sharath Kamal began the year by gate-crashing into the final of the last National championship at Pune. On Friday, as a vastly-improved player, the 21-year-old did one better by living up to the tag of favourite in style for his maiden triumph in the Hero Honda 65th National table tennis championship

After sorting out his starting trouble over the first two games, the top seed settled down to stop the dream-run of seventh seeded Ranbir Das 7-11, 12-14, 11-5, 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 in just under half hour. He punched the air and leapt several times before shaking the outstretched hands of Ranbir, who graciously hugged the new champion. Sharath received Rs. 1.10 lakh while Ranbir got Rs. 50,000.

Earlier, the women's top seed Poulomi Ghatak won her third National crown by dethroning N.R. Indu in straight games, 11-5, 11-6, 11-4, 14-12. Poulomi's efforts fetched her Rs. 66,000 and Indu took home Rs. 30,000.

The men's final followed an expected course with Ranbir exploiting Sharath's slow start to go 1-0 up. In the second game, Ranbir brought Sharath under further pressure by recovering from 7-9 to save a game-point and win on extended points.

At this stage, Sharath chose to stay close to the table and attacked at the first available opportunity. A 9-3 lead for Sharath was good enough to break Ranbir's resistance in game.

Thereafter, there was no stopping Sharath. He led 7-4 in the fourth and fifth games and made light of a 1-5 deficit in the sixth game to win at seven. This also meant that Sharath remained undefeated against Ranbir in four encounters this season.

Poulomi maintained her domination of Indu by sticking to a simple plan. She tried to keep her rival pinned to the backhand corner and went for down-the-line forehand winners.

Earlier in the semifinals, Indu and Ranbir had pulled off victories after being pushed to brink.

In what was a repeat of the last National final between Indu and Mouma, the script changed dramatically from the half-way stage of this 54-minute encounter.

Mouma, with her flat, power-packed drives working well, won two close games before taking the third more easily. At the stage, Indu was a picture of exasperation. She was unable to contain the all-attacking Mouma and had not played the big points as well as her rival. But then, came the twist in the tale.

Indu, down three games and trailing 3-5 in the fourth, won seven straight points to force her first match point. This was just the kind of boost Indu needed for her sagging confidence.

In the fifth game, Indu led 5-1 after matching her rival in backhand counters and winning a few long rallies. Undeterred, Mouma kept fighting and managed to lead 8-7 and came within four points of reaching the final. But Indu won the next three points and converted her second game point to force the sixth game.

An 8-1 lead in the sixth was a good enough cushion for Indu to gain a huge psychological advantage over a now-shaken Mouma. In the decider, Indu opened up leads of 5-1, 7-2 and took the last four points to leave Mouma in tears for nearly an hour.

Semifinal results (all PSPB unless specified):

Men: A. Sharath Kamal bt Subhajit Saha 8-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-5; Ranbir Das (Rlys) bt Shubham Choudhary 11-8, 3-11, 3-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 11-9.

Women: Poulomi Ghatak bt Mamta Prabhu (Rlys) 11-5, 11-6, 12-10, 11-1; N.R. Indu bt Mouma Das 8-11, 11-13, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6, 11-5.

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