Tokyo Olympics | Sharath Kamal gives resounding display before going down to mighty Ma Long

India’s A. Sharath Kamal in action against China’s Ma Long of China in table tennis men’s singles round of 32 in Tokyo on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

A.Sharath Kamal gave a resounding display of table tennis before going down 4-1 to the mighty Ma Long of China in the men’s singles round of 32 on Tuesday. Sharath lost 7-11, 11-8, 11-13, 4-11, 4-11.

Despite losing the best-of-seven match in five games, the fact that Sharath seemed to have rattled Long for a majority of the 46-minute duration underlines the Indian veteran’s prowess. For the uninitiated, Long, the second seed, is considered to be the greatest paddler in modern era, having won three consecutive World Championships and the singles gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

A seasoned campaigner like Sharath understood that Long, with two byes in the draw, would be playing his first match in Tokyo and Sharath had to press hard to put him under any pressure.

Even against a rusty Long, Sharath had to raise the level of his game to be competitive. Not only did Sharath did that - be it with his top-spins from both the flanks and flicks while receiving Long’s side-spin serves — but he also preferred to play closer to the table.

The tactics worked as Long appeared to be rattled in the second game. Despite trailing 1-0, Sharath opened up a 8-4 lead, Long closed it down to 8-7 and Soumyadeep Roy, the India coach, called a time-out from Sharath’s corner.

The next point was the longest rally of the match, with Long levelling the scoreline after a 12-shot rally. It was followed with Sharath coming up with three consecutive winners to level the game.

Taking a game of a Chinese paddler, especially at Olympic, is one of the most challenging tasks in the table tennis arena. And Sharath didn’t just stop there. He continued to look threatening.

With no paddler being able to open up a sizeable gap in the third game, Sharath saved two game-points at 8-10 to stretch the match into an extended tie-break. With Sharath having come up with two successive backhand top-spins on his serve, at 12-11, Long took a time-out, broke Sharath’s rhythm and sealed the game.

The next two games saw Long running away with the match but Sharath, the 39-year-old, warrior, had every reason to walk out of the arena with his head held high.

Sharath’s defeat meant India’s campaign in table tennis got over. While Sharath and Manika Batra lost to the eventual bronze medallist pair from Chinese Taipei in the mixed doubles round of 16, Manika also made it to women’s round of 32.

The two Olympic debutants — G. Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee — exited in the round of 64. Barring Sathiyan, all the other athletes either justified their billing or exceeded their expectations.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 8:11:23 AM |

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