In what was a closely-contested battle between the RP-SG Mavericks and the Dabang Smashers, the Mavericks got their noses in front beating the Smashers 14-13 on the seventh day of the Ultimate Table Tennis League. This was an extremely tense fixture, with the winner still undecided as they entered the last match of the tie. Even in the last match, despite Sofia Polcanova of the Mavericks winning the first game to win the tie as they achieved the required 14 points, it was Tetyana Bilenko who fought hard to win the remaining two games and the match.
But the tie will be remembered for the performances of the local superheroes as Chennai witnessed two of its stars putting up a stellar show to down two higher-ranked foreign players on the day. This was the final day of the first leg matches of UTT, which are being held in Chennai, and homegrown lads Sathiyan Gnansekaran for the Dabang Smashers and Achanta Sharath Kamal for the RP-SG Mavericks gave the crowd a reason to celebrate. Both players now hold an enviable track record of winning two of the three matches they have played against foreign opponents.
Yet the two have contrasting styles and stories. Kamal, who turned 35 last week has been India’s lynchpin for almost a decade now. He is a very aggressive player who depends largely on his explosive forehands to win points often trying to closeout the point early by creating openings for a forehand topspin. Primarily playing a European style game — of attacking from beyond the table, Kamal has had to adjust to the changes in recent years, playing more close to the table and also improving the consistency of his backhand attacks.
Sathiyan, on the other hand, is more of a close-to-the-table player who hits the ball early from both flanks. Primarily a strong blocker with an excellent feeling for the ball, Sathiyan has added an attacking aspect to his game to be able to compete better at the international level.
Both these changes to their games paid rich dividends on Thursday as Sathiyan started the proceedings brilliantly for the Smashers against the Mavericks foreign star Stefan Fegerl. Fegerl was often forced to go away from the table as Sathiyan attacked with brisk pace and agility.
Sathiyan often adopted a wide-to-wide strategy placing the balls alternately at the two opposing corners as Fegerl struggled to keep up. Sathiyan was relentless and his consistency on the day was too good for Fegerl to match. Sathiyan won the match by a score of 2-1.
Kamal, on the other hand, was up against the Portuguese and World No 14 Marcos Freitas. Freitas had lost not lost a single match so far in the tournament and looked in ominous form. But such was the class of Kamal in the first two games that Freitas looked shocked and bogged down. One after the other, the balls zoomed past Freitas as Kamal gave a lesson in the explosiveness of a forehand topspin.
Often, Kamal got a slightly high ball after his serve, which he promptly dispatched. When in a rally, Kamal always showed intent to pivot and hit a forehand winner. Kamal also used deception to great effect as he used his wrist to change the placement of the ball. It was one of those matches when the opponent just admires the class on display. Freitas managed to knick back the last game as Kamal won 2-1.
After having taken a beating at the hands of two Indian players, Fegerl and Freitas locked horns in the penultimate match of the day with Freitas needing a win to keep the tie alive. Freitas was up to the task as he got past Fegerl by a score of 2-1.
Earlier in the day, 17-year-old Archana Kamath of the Mavericks impressed everyone with a delightful performance against Tetyana Bilenko who is nearly twice her age. Kamath played with exuberance and aggression as she attacked with power and precision. Her forehand attacks were loaded with spin and she followed those up with deceptive flat hits.
Kamath won the first game on the golden point rule and by doing so, joined Manika Batra as the two women Indian players to have a game each against two foreign players. Bilenko came back strong in the remaining two games using her experience to get over the line.
This was the first win for the RP-SG Mavericks in the UTT and they now currently at third place in the rankings, whereas the Dabang Smashers, who have also won only one tie, are in second place. The Mavericks will be mighty pleased with the performance of the Indian players in Kamal and Kamath but it is still their foreign men’s duo of Fegerl and Tiago Appolonio who have failed in consecutive matches now. Between them, they have managed to win only a single match of the nine that they have played so far. It is their biggest area of concern, which they need to sort out.
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Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 15:03:03 IST