New Delhi: Thirteen-year-old Japanese sensation Tomokazu Harimoto ended Sharath Kamal's impressive run at the ITTF World Tour India Open, surprising the home hero in the men's singles semifinals on Saturday.
The reigning Junior World Champion showed exemplary skills to outplay his 34-year-old opponent 11-7, 5-11, 11-7, 11-13, 11-9, 11-9 in a late night match at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex.
The loss notwithstanding, it was a memorable tournament for Kamal who reached his first ITTF World Tour semifinal since the series (formerly called Pro Tour) was rechristened in 2012. The Japanese, on the other hand, has had a dream run and meets top seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the final on Sunday.
Harimoto took Kamal by surprise from the outset with his speed and agility around the table. The boy whipped winners at will and his over the table forehand flicks came at lightening speeds. Kamal knew he had to slow things down to make a match out of it. The Indian did just that and with more accuracy in his drives, took an 8-2 lead in the second game before leveling the match.
A similar pattern followed in the next two games with Harimoto on an all out attack and Kamal trying to find a way to contain him so that he could play his own game. The crowd favourite seemed down and out in the fourth at 8-10 but found a way to equal the match once again.
In the fifth, Kamal made far too many unforced errors before he netted a backhand serve on 9-10. The sixth game too was fiercely fought but Harimoto just proved too good in the end.
It was also a long day in the office for world number five Ovtcharov, who overcame two seven-game matches in less than 12 hours to enter the final.
The German was first stretched to the limit by 39th ranked Yuya Oshima before he saw off another Japanese and third seed, Koki Niwa, in the semifinals.
Leading 3-1 in the quarterfinals, the German was set for a straightforward win before Oshima made a remarkable recovery to take the match into the seventh and deciding game. Eventually, luck and experience came to the rescue of Ovtcharov, who got away with a 7-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8, 4-11, 6-11, 12-10 win.
In the first semifinal, Ovtcharov came from behind to beat Niwa 8-11, 11-2, 9-11, 12-10, 14-16, 11-2, 11-8.
The women's singles semifinals witnessed a major upset when top seed Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong was sent packing by Ekholm Matilda of Sweden. The Swede won rather convincingly with the scoreline reading 11-8, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-3.
The world number 32 takes on Japan's Mori Sakura, who got past Wing Nam Ng of Hong Kong 13-11, 12-10, 10-12, 9-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6 in another semifinal that went full distance. Earlier, Kamal kept the local interest alive with a heart-stopping win over longtime rival Paul Drinkhall to enter the last four.
As expected, the match between familiar foes lasted the full distance with Kamal holding his nerve to clinch the enthralling quarterfinal on his second match point. The contest was more of a tactical battle and therefore was not of the highest quality, something both players admitted after the match.
Trailing 5-8 in the seventh and deciding game, it seemed the match was out of Kamal's grasp but he bounced back brilliantly to make it 9-9. He earned his first match point with a cracking backhand before Drinkhall took the next couple of points to make it 11-10. The Indian saved the match point and then went for the kill when got a second chance to close it out, a sizzling down the line forehand leaving the Englishman as a mere spectator.
"It was very much a tactical battle. We both were constantly thinking after every point and you could see it from the outside. Very relieved to have got over the line. Playing Paul is never easy," summed up Sharath after the 11-4, 10-12, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 13-11 victory.
World number 42 Drinkhall had come into the tournament at the back of a good season and is ranked 20 places higher than the Indian in the latest world rankings. Kamal had last beaten Drinkhall at the 2014 Commonwealth Games before losing the bronze medal play-off to his English teammate Liam Pitchford.
Men's singles semifinals:  Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) Beat  Koki Niwa (JPN) 8-11, 11-2, 9-11, 12-10, 14-16, 11-2, 11-8. Harimoto Tomokazu beat Sharath Kamal 11-7, 5-11, 11-7, 11-13, 11-9, 11-9.
Women's singles semifinals:  Matilda Ekholm Beat  Hoi Kem Doo (HKG) - 11-8, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-3; Mori Sakura beat Wing Nam Ng 13-11, 12-10, 10-12, 9-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6.
Men's singles quarters:  Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) Beat  Yuya Oshima (JPN)- 7-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8, 4-11, 6-11, 12-10,  Koki Niwa (JPN) Beat Tianyi Jiang (HKG) - 11-9, 10-12, 11-1, 11-8, 11-8,  Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) Beat Robert Gardos (AUT) 4-11, 11-7, 11-8, 8-11, 12-10, 11-6,  Sharath Kamal Achanta (IND) Beat  Paul Drinkhall (ENG) - 11-4, 10-12, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 13-11.
Women's singles quarterfinals:  Wing Nam NG (HKG) Beat  Georgina Pota (HUN) - 11-9, 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 11-3,  Sakura Mori (JPN) vs  Tze Wing Mak (HKG) - 11-6, 13-11, 10-12, 11-6, 11-7, (1) Doo Hoi Kem beat Jiang Huajun 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-8, 13-11; Ekholm Matilda beat Shao Jieni 11-8, 11-8, 11-7, 11-5.
Published Date: Feb 19, 2017 10:13 am | Updated Date: Feb 20, 2017 02:30 pm