Dharwad: The big monkey off his back, the recent Arjuna Award recipient and an uncluttered Anthony Amalraj celebrated a fantastic comeback victory, beating top-seed Achanta Sharath Kamal 4-3 in the men singles final of the LIC-IOC All India National Ranking Table Tennis Championships (South Zone) at the overflowing District Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.
The trophy-triumph earned him Rs. 70,000 in prize purse and, more importantly, did a world of good to his sagging morale. On the other hand, Sarath had come here needing some good practice for the 30 th ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup, commencing at Ahmedabad next week. He did have the practice he needed, but he needs to quickly put this title loss behind and look ahead at the job at hand.
Playing superbly throughout, Amalraj looked like slipping away when Sharath took a commanding 3-0 lead. But Amalraj, who never gives up easily, fought well and upped the ante when it was needed as he clawed his way back slowly but surely. All the while, a jaded Sharath was losing steam and was unable to get his shorts right, more often than not putting out and netting a few. Amalraj levelled the score at 3-3 and took the issue to the decider.
Coming hard in the last game, Amalraj held two match points and then changing side increased the lead gradually, to four, six and finally winning as he stopped Sharath at mere four points.
“Shartth bhaia was playing well and I first wanted to level the score and take on from there. Luckily, I cashed in on some of his negative give-aways. I also got my shots right at crucial junctures,” said a happy and expressive Amalraj, who pumped his fists in celebration letting out a huge cry.
Earlier, Manika Batra hit a purple patch disposing of second seed Suthirtha Mukherjee 4-2 for what was her first women singles crown this season and a cash prize of Rs.60,000 for her efforts.
Picking up from where she left off in the semi-final against No. 4 seed Madhurika Patkar, Manika hit the zone straightaway against Suthirtha in the final. With her blocks and forehands working wonderfully well, the West Bengal was put off by Manika’s game plan. Unable to find her feet initially, Suthirtha slowed down the pace to bring her back on track and it did help her to some extent as she managed to take two games off her rival.
But Manika, who will be the lone Indian turning out at the Asian Cup in Ahmedabad next week, was game for it and re-adjusted her game without giving up on her efforts to use the powerful backhand blocks and her trademark forehands which fetched several winners.
Later Manika admitted that playing the qualifiers had helped her acclimatise to the conditions. “I was a little upset after being edged out on toss and making it to the main draw directly. But in hindsight, playing qualifiers has helped me and I could win the first title of the season,” said the PSPB girl. Incidentally, this crown has come her way after a year. The Delhi girl last won the national ranking title (Central Zone) at Indore.
Awesome and awful!
If Moumita Datta was awesome, Archana Kamath was awful today. Probably the pressure of playing both the women and Youth singles took its toll os the PSPB girl. In fact, her body language said that all was not well. Even in the semi-final against Selenadeepthi, Archana was far from free flowing and giving away negative points. In the final, she was completely jaded and failed short of efforts.
On the other hand, Moumita was growing in confidence and she drove and blocked well conceding fewer negatives points to her opponent. Archana never looked like making a recovery and was making far too many mistakes, particularly after she was down 0-2. The frequency only increased with every passing game and in the fourth, the girl from Bengaluru simply threw in the towel.
Manav Thakkar, knowing his rival full well from the PSPB Academy days, did not succumb to the guile of a defensive player like Lalrin Puia. Every time Puia took a sizeable lead, Manav came back nicely to overcome the initial hiccups with his unrelenting onslaught. Using the flanks well, the boy from Surat ensured the Youth Boys title was in his pocket, making amends for the loss at the Institutional championships in New Delhi.
Men Singles: Final: Anthony Amalraj PSPB) bt A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) 5-11, 8-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-5, 11-8, 11-4; Semifinals: A. Sharatah Kamal bt Manav Thakkar (PSPB) 9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-4, 15-13, A.Amalraj bt G. Sathiyan (PSPB) 11-4, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6, 11-4.
Women Singles: Final: Manika Batra (PSPB) Suthirtha Mukherjee (WB) 11-4, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11, 11-7; Semifinals: Manika Batra bt Madhurika Patkar (PSPB) 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 10-12, 11-3, Suthirtha Mukherjee (WB) bt Archana Kamath (PSPB) 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9.
Youth Boys: Final: Manav Thakkar (PSPB) bt Lalrin Puia (Miz) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9; Semifinals: Manav Thakkar bt Manush Shah (AAI) 11-4, 11-7, 11-5, 11-3, Lalrin Puia bt Peeyush Prasad (Del) 11-4, 11-8, 11-6, 11-4.
Youth Girls: Final:Moumita Datta (AAI) bt Archana G. Kamath (PSPB) 11-6, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6; Semifinals: Moumita Datta bt Swastika Ghosh (Mah) 11-9, 11-8, 12-10, 11-8, Archana Kamath bt Selenadeepthi Selvakumar (AAI) 11-5, 11-5, 11-9, 6-11, 11-5.