World No. 49 Achanta Sharath Kamal mesmerised Indian fans with a stupendous performance that saw him finish sixth at the recently-concluded 28th Asian Cup in Jaipur. The three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist once again proved that he is one of the best ever paddlers from India by upsetting three top-20 players in two days.
Sharath Kamal upsets #8 and #16 in group stage
Last Friday, TT fans at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium in Jaipur witnessed the courage and indomitable spirit of Achanta Sharath Kamal who has forever been an asset to Indian table tennis. With most of Asia’s best playing in this prestigious tournament, the pre-match predictions had almost written off the chances of Indian TT players.
But Sharath Kamal proved them wrong. The man who had been honing his skills in the German Bundesliga, first toppled the World No. 8 Chuang Chih-Yuan and then followed it up with an upset of the World No. 16 Joo Saehyuk in the group stage.
Sharath Kamal, who by his own admission is enjoying ‘the best phase of his career’, was sharp and accurate and attacked the 8th ranked player relentlessly. The result was a 11-6, 7-11, 11-5, 11-3 triumph for the Indian.
Superb comeback against the world’s best defender
The determined 32-year-old delighted the vociferous crowd in Pink City with another thoroughly exhilarating performance that saw him edge past the player whom many consider ‘the world’s best defender’. The Chennai player had succumbed to the Korean Joo Saehyuk in the team championships of the 2014 Asian Games but was ready to take on the challenge this time.
Sharath’s steely resolve and mental fortitude were on display as he battled back from 2-7 down in the fifth game to score the unexpected victory. The final score read 11-3, 4-11, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11 in favour of Sharath.
It was a hugely satisfying feeling for India’s marquee paddler who had faced trouble against defensive players for a long time. After his victory, he revealed how his Borussia Dusseldorf teammate Panagiotis Gionis had helped him.
“I owe it to Panagiotis Gionis (ranked 19th in the World) who plays with me for Borussia Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga. A defensive player, Panagiotis helped me a great deal in my preparations before coming here and it greatly helped against Joo,” said the World No. 49.
The results helped Sharath Kamal progress to the quarter-finals even though he surrendered in his last group match against the World No. 3 Fan Zhendong. The Chinese beat the Indian 11-6, 11-7, 11-4.
Sharath Kamal scores first win over Gao Ning
It proved to be an uphill task for the lanky Indian paddler as he faced the World No. 5 Jun Mizutani in the quarter-finals. Sharath went down to the Japanese 11-3, 14-12, 11-2, 11-6.
But Sharath’s heroics were not over. The gallant fighter saved his best for the last!
World No. 15 Gao Ning had been a thorn for the Indian with his four consecutive victories over Sharath. But Achanta was determined not to let that streak continue on Saturday.
The Indian scored his first ever win over the Singaporean 11-7, 4-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-5 in the 5th-8th place playoff.
Sharath settles for sixth place in a thriller
In the next match, Sharath Kamal almost avenged his defeat to the player he had lost to in the same stage in the last edition, but ultimately fell short. In an absolute nail-biter, the 32nd-ranked Korean Kim Minseok prevailed over the Indian 8-11, 11-2, 15-17, 11-7, 11-9, 9-11, 12-10.
The Korean thus settled for the fifth spot while Achanta had to be content with the sixth place. In the previous edition at Wuhan too, the Indian had ended up sixth.
Other Indians exit in group stage
However, besides Achanta Sharath Kamal’s superb efforts, there was not much to talk about the other Indian players. In men’s competition, Soumyajit Ghosh remained winless while G. Sathiyan managed to win just one group match.
In the women’s event, Mouma Das had a solitary win while Poulomi Ghatak ended winless.
Men: Group C: Tang Peng (Hkg) bt Soumyajit Ghosh 11-7, 11-4, 11-4; Gao Ning (Sin) bt Ghosh 12-10, 11-8, 11-7; Jun Mizutani (Jpn) bt Ghosh 11-1, 11-7, 11-6.
Men: Group D: Yang Zi (Sin) bt G. Sathiyan 11-6, 11-8, 11-4; Sathiyan bt Omar Ali (Yem) 11-8, 8-11, 11-4, 11-5; Noshad Alamiyan (Iri) bt Sathiyan 12-10, 5-11, 11-4, 11-6.
Women: Group C: Seo Hyo Won (Kor) bt Poulomi Ghatak 11-7, 11-7, 11-7; Yu Mengyu bt Poulomi 11-3, 11-6, 6-11, 11-6; Kasumi Ishikawa (Jpn) bt Poulomi 11-5, 11-8, 11-5.
Women: Group D: Nathana Komwong (Tha) bt Mouma Das 16-14, 11-13, 11-7, 13-11; Mouma bt Aia Mohamed (Qat) 11-4, 11-8, 11-2; Mouma bt Neda Shahsavari (Iri) 11-6, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8.
Xu Xin and Feng Tianwei triumph in final
In a rematch of the 2014 Asian Games final, World No. 2 Xu Xin made a remarkable comeback from 1-3 down to beat the 3rd-ranked Fan Zhendong and clinch the men’s title. Xin won 11-8, 11-13, 11-13, 5-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-7.
Feng Tianwei, meanwhile, prevented an all-Chinese sweep at the Asian Cup. The World No. 4 Singaporean played a terrific match to upset multiple Asian Cup winner Liu Shiwen of China. Tianwei prevailed 3-11, 11-8, 11-9, 7-11, 11-1, 12-10 in the women’s final.
The three days witnessed some world class table tennis action in Jaipur. What would remain etched in every Indian fan’s memories is the guts and never-say-die attitude from India’s iconic paddler – Achanta Sharath Kamal. At 32, the man is reaching greater heights.
The Asian Cup heroics is expected to propel him into the top 30 of the world rankings and is a huge boost ahead of the World Championships in April.
Let us hope that this Indian hero continues to marvel us just like this for as long as he plays.