Ace Indian paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal began the 2021 season with an impressive victory as he defeated Czech Republic’s Pavel Sirucek 17-15, 9-11, 11-6, 8-11, 11-9 in the men singles opening round at the World Table Tennis Contender Doha on Tuesday.

However, India’s No 2 Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, who had also secured a direct entry into the main draw alongside 2006 Commonwealth Games champion Sharath, suffered a 11-7, 11-4, 11-8 loss at the hands of star African paddler and world No 21 Aruna Quadri in the Round-of-32.

The world No 32 Sharath, who was up against an international opponent for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, struggled initially when he was trailing by five points in the first game before recovering well with a strong counter attacking display to take an early 1-0 lead in the match. Despite losing the next game, the nine-time Indian national champion kept firing attacking shots to bag the third set comfortably.

Sirucek, world No 51, who was the chief architect during India’s loss at the Team Olympic Qualifier last year, managed to come back in the fourth game and kept his challenge alive. However, the seasoned campaigner that he is, Sharath held his nerves in the deciding game and completed an impressive 3-2 win.

Sharath will now face a strong challenge from world No 7 Lin Yun-Ju of Chinese Taipei in the pre-quarters on Thursday.

The day then came to a disappointing end for the Indian duo in men’s doubles. Sharath and Sathiyan lost their round of 16 match against Gaston Alto and Horacio Cifuentes from Argentina 12-14, 7-11, 3-11.