Achanta clinches 10th National crown, Akula bags maiden title
By Our Reporter
SHILLONG, April 25: Indian table tennis icon Achanta Sharath Kamal bagged his 10th national senior men’s singles championship defeating fellow Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) teammate, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan in a jaw-clenching finish while newcomer Sreeja Akula of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stunned veteran paddler Mouma Das representing PSPB in their women’s singles final to claim her maiden national title at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Indoor Training Centre in the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) campus, here on Monday.
Playing each other for the third time in the national finals, Sathiyan appeared to be dominating the match, winning three out of the first four sets against the 39-year-old Sharath before slipping into a defensive mode and eventually losing 11-7, 10-12, 11-9, 11-7, 10-12, 9-11, 6-11.
With completely different styles of play – Sathiyan with his guile and use of spin and Sharath with his explosive mode – the game was set for more than a thrilling finale. Sathiyan won the first set 11-7 before going down narrowly 10-12 in the second set. In his next two sets, he created numerous forced errors to win 11-9 and 11-7.
But Sharath’s experience showed and as he kept his wits about him, he was able to snatch the last three sets 12-10, 11-9 and 11-6 and with that, the national championship title.
Speaking after the match, Sharath said, “You could see the intensity during the match. We’ve played each other so many times but this is only our third national final. After he moved ahead, I held my nerves and played out the remainder of the match to my best ability.
“Sathiyan was overcautious and that gave me the space to come back into the match, not make any unforced errors and capitalise on his mistakes. Although, he and I will be teaming up for the Asian Championships and hopefully add a few more gold medals to our country’s name.”
“Tenth is always special, and I will cherish this moment as I did with my first title,” he added. Asked if the milestone can be surmounted, Sharath said, “Records are meant to be broken but it might take some time as it happened with me when I surpassed Kamlesh Mehta’s eight-time national record.”
Holding back his tears after the match, Kamal dedicated his victory to Deenadayalan Vishwa who tragically passed away on his way to Shillong to compete in the competition.
Sathiyan, while agreeing that it was a tough match, admitted that he was defensive towards the end of the match.
“I started really well going 3-1 up. Perhaps I was a little too defensive towards the end. I should have been a little more aggressive. I started to miss a lot of chances and Sharath took advantage of that. I had a great tournament. Congrats to him!”
In the women’s singles final, Akula came in on the back of some solid victories although she was tasked with challenging the more experienced Das. The match stretched to the last set after which Akula won 11-8, 11-13, 12-10, 11-8, 11-6 to complete a memorable tournament.
This was Akula’s debut final at the national championships and while she lost her last match a few years ago to Das, she made no mistake this time around.
“I still can’t believe I just won the national championships. I’m so excited! I have faced Mouma Di once but lost to her. Coming back to win against her here in Shillong is a dream come true,” she said.
When asked about her inspiring performance, Akula added “I’ve been working on my back and top spin and it has helped me throughout this tournament.”
The young paddler currently plans to travel to the United States to compete in an event. “Hopefully I can perform well there,” she signed off.
Akula also tasted success in the women’s doubles final with her RBI teammate Ayhika Mukherjee to beat RSPB’s Takeme Sarkar and Prapti Sen 3-11, 11-9, 11-5, 12-10.
In the men’s doubles final, Sourav Saha and Wesley do Rosario got the better of fellow Haryana-mates Soumyajit Ghosh and Jubin Kumar 11-5, 4-11,11-9, 7-11, 11-8
Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma attended the men’s final and closing ceremony as the chief guest along with Director of Sports & Youth Affairs, Meghalaya, Wanri Booth and other officials.
Both the officials and players present on the final day of the championships heaped praises on the Meghalaya Table Tennis Association for organising the event in such a short notice, which they termed a “great success”.
“Everything, from the food, the accommodation and the venue was great. Especially the food was outstanding,” a player who participated in the championships said.