LUCKNOW: It was a fantastic and a well-deserved maiden title triumph for Petroleum Sports Promotion Board’s A. Amalraj over top-seed and reigning singles champion Achanta Sharath Kamal in the final of the 73rd Senior National and Inter-State Table Tennis Championships. But it also turned out to be a hugely controversial one for the new champion who, throwing all playing norms and discipline out of the window, chose to celebrate his victory by first, jumping on to the table and then threw his racquet pumping his arms.
This warranted the umpire show him the yellow card, yet Amalraj without giving any heed or respect to the umpire’s reaction, went around the centre-court merrily. This forced the umpire pull out the red card. As if this was not enough, he didn’t shake hand with Sharath or the umpire until Amalraj’s coach S. Raman reminded him.
Now he stands to lose 25 per cent of his prize money, which is Rs 2.1 lakh. The punishment has been recommended to the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) by competition manager, N. Ganeshan.
Indeed, this was the only aberration in an otherwise thrilling final which had all the ingredients. Amalraj, thus dethroned the six-time national champion Sharath, beating 4-2 (11-8, 11-8, 12-10, 9-11, 7-11, 11-8). Amalraj, who had beaten Sharath in the inter-institutional championships for the title earlier this season, began not only confidently but showed his early aggressive intent.
The best thing about Amalraj was the never-say-die attitude. Every time he fell behind Sharath, he staged excellent comeback to outsmart his senior rival. Amalraj matched Sharath shot for shot and never was afraid to play his attacking game. He was down 6-8 in both the first and second games and showing glimpses of recovery took a comfortable lead at 2-0. In the third, Sharath got a lucky point to be 9-all and could have turned it around. But Amalraj was playing his best game and shut out the challenge at 12-10.
When somebody is up 3-0 the opponent almost always throws in the towel, but Sharath’s remarkable recovery in the next two games should have sent some warning singles to Amalraj because he had been a witness to what happened at the Kolkata nationals where Sharath clinched the title after being down 0-3 and 4-7 against Soumyadeep Roy.
Amalraj became cautious in the sixth game and points changed hands as quickly as the blistering shots the two had sent down. At 7-7, Amalraj picked up the momentum when Sharath sent the ball three times before managing to take a point to go 8-10. That was all he could manage as Amalraj’s close-to-the-net serve could not be returned across and that triggered the celebration for Amalraj.
“I had beaten Sharath before in the inter-institutional and my confidence was high. I wanted to continue in the same vein. My coach (S Raman) also motivated a lot today. My national level goal has been achieved and I now want to concentrate on even bigger goal. I am off the Germany to train for the Asian and world championships,” said Commonwealth doubles gold medallist.
Asked for his reaction on the drama that followed his win, Amalraj said: “It was not intentional and I did it in excitement. Reminded about the fine, he said: “I don’t mind losing a portion of the money,” said the 25-year-old.
Earlier in the women’s final, Shamini was not in her elements and Poulami exploited it to the hilt winning 4-0 (11-9, 11-4, 11-8, 11-7). She was both attacking and countering well to lead from beginning to the end in spite of Shamini showing the gumption to stage a comeback in the third game. Shamini was leading 8-2 in the game, but a timely time-out suggestion by husband and coach Soumyadeep Roy did a good turn for Poulami. Not only did she equal the score at 8-8, but went on to win the next two games without any trouble.
Poulami attributed her seventh title to hard work and husband’s support. “My only aim before the final was to play well, knowing Shamini’s strength. I did exactly that and I am thankful to god I was able to regain the title which I lost to Shamini last year.”
Men’s singles (final): Amal Raj A (PSPB) bt Sharath Kamal (PSPB) (4-2) 11-8, 11-8, 12-10, 9-11, 7-11, 11-8; Semi-finals: Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Soumayajit Ghosh (NB) (4-1) 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-6; Amal Raj A (PSPB) bt Subhajit Saha (PSPB) (4-0) 11-7, 11-4, 11-7, 11-8.
Doubles (final): Sanil Shetty-Amal Raj (PSPB) bt Harmit Desai-Devesh Karia (Guj) (3-2) 12-10, 8-11, 10-11, 11-6, 12-10.
Women’s singles (final): Poulami Ghatak (PSPB) bt Shamini K (PSPB) (4-0) 11-9, 11-4, 11-8, 11-7; Semi-finals: Poulami Ghatak (PSPB) bt Ankita Das (NB) (4-3) 11-3, 9-11, 11-9, 4-11, 10-12, 11-8, 11-8; Shamini K (PSPB) bt Mouma Das (PSPB) (4-1) 11-9, 11-4, 12-10, 13-15, 11-6.
Doubles (final): Shamini K-Mousami Paul (PSPB) bt Anindita Chakraborty-Pallavi Kundu (WB) (3-1) 5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 12-10.