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Table Tennnis : Sathiyan Gnanasekaran wins his first-ever National title

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Sathiyan Gnanashekaran beat Achanta Sharath Kamal 4-2 to win his maiden national title at the 82nd Senior National Table Tennis Championships.

G. Sathiyan’s perseverance paid the dividends. What he narrowly missed at Cuttack two years ago, the world No. 37 and second-seeded Petroleum paddler made it up in the UTT 82nd National Table Tennis Championships at the Tau Devi Lal Indoor Stadium here today.

That day, Sathiyan rued his missed chances against Sharath Kamal in the final at Cuttack, which ultimately put the current world No. 32 on a high pedestal, leading to his ninth title. Today, it was a different Sathiyan. So was Sharath, not his usual self, who lost his momentum in the fifth game.

“Third time I was lucky, no more jinx. A huge burden off my shoulder,” said Sathiyan. Before Cuttack, he had missed out at Pondicherry (2014) and Hyderabad (2015).  The 4-2 win also helped him carry home Rs. 2.50 lakh in prize money.  

Taking a 2-0 lead, Sathiyan made his intentions loud and clear. But he knows his experienced opponent can change the flow of the match in a matter of minutes. And Sharath did strike, taking the next two games. But, as seen very often, Sharath had his problems unable to land the ball. Converting those moments to his advantage, Sathiyan nailed it again and went 3-2 up.

As if on cue, Sathiyan kept his backhand blocks and forehand scorchers going, pushing Sharath on the backfoot as hard as possible. Sharath should own up the mistakes for his losing heart in the match, allowing Sathiyan to take control slowly but surely. It’s equally important to give full credit to Sathiyan, the new champion, who punched his way up the ladder with a lot of hard work.

“In the end, it was a good match, and he deserved to win,” said the genial Sharath. He attributed the loss to the lack of concentration in the fifth game after leading 8-6. “Two crucial mistakes cost me dearly at that stage. But Sathiayn let me off the hook in the third to come back. These are part of the game. I am happy for him,” he added.

With age catching up with Sharath, Sharath is not yet giving up chasing his tenth title. “I will certainly come back strong and aim for it,” he said.

Sharath began well in his semi-final against fourth-seed Manav Thakkar. But in the second, Manav went 3-1 up before letting Sharath take his second point. And both exchanged a point before Manav striking a nice rhythm to lead 9-3.

Sharath added two more points, and that was all he managed. In the third, Manav surged ahead and led 10-7 up. Saving three game points, Sharath converted his second game-point to go 2-1 up. In the fourth, Sharath took control of the game before wrapping it up comfortably. However, the sixth was a touch-and-go affair. The lead kept changing hands until Sharath had his first match point at 10-9. The top-seed and world No. 32 failed to convert while squandering two more before sewing it up on the fourth.

On the other hand, Manav dropped three game-points. But the credit must go to last year’s runner-up, who matched Sharath’s attacking way of play. Manav’s backhand and wonderful placements caught Sharath on the wrong foot, as the latter time and again indulged in false stroke.  Sharath, employing his backhand blocks and powerful flips, upped the ante only to drop his guard now and then. But there was hardly a moment in the match when Sharath looked out of control.

In the second semi-final, SFR Snehit lost the match when allowed second-seed Sathiyan to claw his way back from 2-10 down. Another chance came his way when he went 11-10 up. But Sathiyan nailed it to win the game 13-11. After that, Snehit was never in the match. Probably, he could have benefited had he adopted a different strategy, as he did against Harmeet Desai, attacking his strong points. But Sathiyan was a different kettle of fish.

RESULTSFinal: G. Sathiyan (PSPB) bt A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) 11-6, 11-7, 10-12, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8; Semi-finals: A. Sharath Kamal bt Manav Thakkar (PSPB) 11-8, 5-11, 14-12, 11-9, 9-11, 17-15; G. Sathiyan bt SFR Snehit (Telg) 13-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-5