Before the semi-final between Chennai Lions and Goa Challengers on Saturday, a clip of Sharath Kamal playing a no-look backhand return was repeatedly played on the big screen.
It was mesmerising, for Sharath won that point as well. The crowd at the Thayagraj Stadium in New Delhi had to wait only an hour longer to see more of Sharath’s mastery in front of their eyes.
The veteran led his team Chennai to the final of this season’s Ultimate Table Tennis with mesmerising performances – first in the mixed doubles category and later in the men’s singles category – winning both matches to give his team a shot at the title.
Going into the mixed doubles match, Chennai were trailing 1-5 in the tie against Goa and it was up to Sharath and Solia Petrissa to rescue their team. They not only won the match but also blanked Goa’s pair of Anthony and Cheng I-Ching 3-0 to make it 4-5.
Soon after, he won his match against Anthony 2-1 to make it 6-6 and bring Chennai back in the tie. Anthony was subjected to some of the best defence from Sharath which broke the Goa player’s spirit and led to his loss.
“We had a bad start to the tie but once we pushed ourselves in the mixed doubles, we were able to put pressure on Goa,” Sharath said.
“I knew I had to win the match against Anthony so I just thought of taking it point by point. The first set was important but I lost the second and was angry,” he said.
Sharath then returned with a composed mind and took the final set 11-10 to tie the score at 6-6.
It all came down to the final match between Madhurika Patkar and Archana Kamath and the latter won the first set to put Goa at an advantage. But Patkar won two consecutive sets, the final with a golden point, to win the tie 8-7 for her team.
The win for Chennai sets up a final between them and Delhi on Sunday. Delhi had beaten U Mumba on Friday in the first semi-final with an identical scoreline.
While Sharath was the highlight of the day, Chennai did not begin well in the semi-final with Petrissa failing to win a single set against Cheng in the women’s singles. That put a lot of pressure on Tiago Apolonia who gave it all but lost the match 1-2 against Alvaro Robles.
Tiago found it difficult to breach the defence of Alvaro. The former looked dejected after losing two rallies – one of 29 shots and other of 30 shots – despite some exceptional table tennis skills.
Alvaro’s win over Tiago put Goa firmly in front with a 5-1 lead but it was all about Sharath after that match. The captain of the Chennai team definitely gave the crowd what the wanted.