Sharath  Kamal   leads  Chennai Lions to  thrilling win over Goa Challengers in UTT

Harpal Singh Bedi

New Delhi: Former Commonwealth Games champion Sharath Kamal spearheaded Chennai Lions’ nerve-wracking 8-7 win over Goa Challengers in the Ultimate Table Tennis here on Wednesday.

The World No. 32 first shepherded a shaky Petrissa Solja to collect two crucial Mixed Doubles points for his side; he, then, absorbed a big scare from Amalraj Anthony to add two more into the team’s kitty in the reverse Men’s Singles.

His 4 points, coupled with 2 from Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia and 1 from Petrissa, meant that the Lions needed only 1 more point in the fifth and final clash.

The Women’s Singles, featuring two Indians, saw Madhurika Patkar steal that solitary point against a rampaging Archana Kamath to seal the win for the Lions. Madhurika lost 1-2 but pumped her fist in delight at saving the day for her team.

Earlier, Goa’s Cheng I-Ching too survived a minor scare to put her side ahead in the opening Women’s Singles. The World No. 8 from Taiwan spurted to a big 6-0 lead in the first, only to see Petrissa claw back into the game, allowing it to go all the way to 10-10.

Cheng, however, unleashed a powerful forehand to clinch the crucial golden point and the first point for her team.

She was on song in the second set, though, racing away to a commanding 9-1 lead. She conceded only one more point to give herself a nice big win. The final set, however, saw a different story unfold. Petrissa played a steady game to win it 11-6, tossing one point into the Lions bag.

In an all-European Men’s Singles clash, Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia put up a dominant display to bring the Lions back into the game. Tiago pulled out his big shots to unsettle Alvaro Robles of Spain.

Tiago won the first set 11-5 but lost his way in the next, capitulating to a 2-11 defeat. He, however, regained his composure to clinch the third set 11-7.

In the crucial Mixed Doubles, Sharath & Petrissa fell behind straight away, losing to Amalraj Anthony & Cheng I-Ching 9-11 in the first set. Sharath, however, went on the offensive to collect crucial points to set up a 11-6 win.

The decider was a humdinger, with Sharath-Petrissa conceding the early advantage. They, however, fought back from 4-8 down to make it 10-10, before claiming the golden point.

In the reverse Men’s Singles, Sharath once again began on the wrong foot, giving away the first set rather easily at 2-11. He, however, was back to his usual attacking self, jumping to a 6-1 lead. He held on to the advantage to close it 11-9.

In the decider, he was well poised at 10-6 but Amalraj, looking as cool as is possible in a cauldron, made it 10-10. It suddenly became a tense encounter, ending with Sharath’s slow, low serve which brooked no response from Amalraj.

Meanwhile in a late last evening (Tuesday) encounter ,Sweden’s World No. 25 Matilda Ekholm and Sanil Shetty put up a fine display of attacking table tennis to enable RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata record a facile 11-4 over Puneri Paltan .

The 37-year-old Matilda began her team’s charge with an emphatic 3-0 win in the opening Women’s Singles encounter against Puneri Paltan. Sanil closed it for them, pouncing on the opportunity to put pressure on his Indian counterpart, Harmeet Desai and forcing him into mistakes. He surprised him with a 2-1 win to clinch the tie for RP-SG.

In between, Sanil and Matilda joined hands to eke out a crucial 2-1 victory in the Mixed Doubles to put RP-SG in the driver’s seat.Earlier, Matilda Ekholm set the tone for the day, getting the better of Germany’s Sabine Winter 3-0. It began as an even contest but Matilda slowly asserted herself, even winning a spectacular rally that lasted 30 shots.

After taking the first set 11-9, she raced away in the remaining two (11-5, 11-6) to give RP-SG an early 3-point lead.

German recruit Benedikt Duda (No. 53), then ripped out an upset, overcoming Chuang Chih-Yuan (No. 28) rather comfortably. He won the first two sets on 6 and 4 before yielding the third at 8-11.

The Mixed Doubles was a close affair, with Sanil Shetty & Matilda Ekholm locked in an intense battle with Harmeet Desai & Sabine Winter for supremacy.

Sabine defended smartly to help Puneri take the first set. But then, Sanil-Matlida came into their own, attacking with gusto. The match was evenly poised till 7-7 before RP-SG pulled away for a 11-8 victory. The final set too was dominated by Sanil-Matlida, at one point putting them 9-4 ahead. Harmeet-Sabine fought back to 9-10 but couldn’t finish it off.

In the reverse Men’s Singles, Harmeet Desai stormed away to a 6-2 lead only to see Sanil Shetty claw his back in. Sanil dragged the set to 8-10 but that’s where it stopped. The second set was tantalisingly close, with neither player conceding ground. They went neck and neck all the way till 10-10 till Sanil gobbled up the golden point.

The same story unfolded in the final set too, though Sanil was well poised at 10-8. Harmeet saved two match points but eventually lost on another golden point.

Favourite Manika Batra tamed Ayhika Mukherjee 2-1 in the final fixture.

HSB

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