Goa Challengers defeated holders Chennai Lions in a final that went down to the last game to win the fourth edition of Ultimate Table Tennis in Pune on Sunday.
Bookended by newly-crowned India No.1 Harmeet Desai at the start and Reeth Rishya Tennison in the final match, with veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal having a dismal day in singles, Goa changed the script against the favourites and defending champions.
In UTT, where the winning team is decided by number of games won, and not matches (the first to 8 points wins), the final went down to the wire.
Goa – coached by Elena Timina, one of the few women coaches in the league – and Parag Agrawal, played a smart move to send the Indian men’s singles player first and keep the European players later against Sharath Kamal – which proved to be a beneficial one.
Harmeet, now India’s highest ranked men’s singles player at world No. 62 and fielded first in a bit of a surprise move by the team management, started the final by ending the winning streak of World No. 33 Benedikt Duda of Germany. It set the tone of the tie early on. Duda won the first game but Harmeet bounced back to level things in the second game. There was a stunning point at 8-4, with Harmeet attacking and forcing errors from the German, eventually handing him his first loss of the season.
Interestingly, Harmeet won’t be in India’s singles squad for the Asian Games and Asian Championships. Sharath and G Sathiyan were selected ahead of him, while Harmeet will be part of the team and doubles event.
Next up were two of the best players in the league in world No. 30 Yangzi Liu and Suthasini Sawettabut, world No. 39. Sawettabut kept up her quick, attacking game but the Australian used that to force a string of errors, especially in the third game. Her 2-1 win got the tie scores level after Duda’s loss and kept her winning streak in the league intact.
The mixed doubles was the first of two matches for Sharath, and the second for Harmeet and Yangzi and Suthasini. Chennai won the match 2-1 after a neck and neck second game that got some sections of the crowd cheering for Goa, and against Sharath.
The third game saw Chennai surge ahead before Goa fought back to level at 8-8 and the final saw its first Golden Point, clinched by Goa on a Sharath error. The final was tied 5-4, and Sharath had now a singles match against Alvaro Robles to redeem him.
However, Sharath, whose entry got the most engagement from the crowd, and even a brief chant, didn’t offer much to cheer for his fans after the mixed doubles.
In his singles match, Sharath (world No. 75) went down 3-0 to world No. 46 Alvaro Robles. But the one-sided margin does not fully describe what was quite the show from both players, with expansive and dynamic exchanges.
The Spaniard levelled the final at 5-5 after the first game, neutralising Sharath’s shots with speed and steady defence. In the second Sharath recovered from 1-7 down but couldn’t prevent a 11-8 loss. The third game was close at 9-9 and went down to the final Golden Point – won by an excited, jersey-waving Alvaro.
The final came down to the last match – India’s Reeth Rishya Tennison vs Sutirtha Mukherjee. Goa needed just one game of the three to win the title. Reeth had clinched the semi-final against heavyweights Dabang Delhi beating Sreeja Akula and she looked pumped up, with her warm-up including push-ups and jumps on the sidelines.
However, Sutirtha, with her touch and soft pimples on both sides of the racquet, didn’t make it easy. She kept the final alive winning the first two games, the second a comeback from 5-9 down. A service error on golden point from Reeth took the final to the very edge – tied 7-7 with both teams a game away from victory.
In the end it was Reeth once again who kept her cool and clinched the title for Goa.
Goa Challengers 8-7 Chennai Lions
Harmeet Desai 2-1 Benedikt Duda (6-11, 11-4, 11-8)
Suthasini Sawettabut 1-2 Yangzi Liu (11-7, 6-11, 5-11)
Harmeet/Suthasini 1-2 Sharath/Yangzi (7-11, 9-11, 11-10)
Alvaro Robles 3-0 Sharath Kamal (11-8, 11-8, 11-10)
Reeth Tennison 1-2 Sutirtha Mukherjee (7-11, 10-11, 11-6)