A debutant against an experienced unit was the theme as Goa Challengers took on Mavericks Kolkata on the third day of Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) and the first match up carried that theme — in a way. Archana Kamath, representing Goa Challengers, up against Manika Batra, representing Mavericks Kolkata, in a clash of two young guns who could take India far. Kamath is domestic No 1 and Batra holds the reign as the top-ranked Indian as per ITTF rankings.
On paper, Batra was the favourite. But, the beauty of sport is that it doesn't go by rankings or understand any script. It was visible a day prior when Manav Thakkar ran Sharath Kamal close in U Mumba's win over Chennai Lions. The youngster came a point from beating the much senior Kamal. Move to Saturday and that gap, so to speak, was shortened.
Kamath's 11-9, 11-7, 11-3 win in rapid-fire fashion highlighted the depth of Indian table tennis and the unpredictable nature of leagues where three games just whiz past before you get a chance to compose yourself.
If the first game went close, the pretence of holding back and giving her compatriot Batra the chance was taken away by Kamath. Her strong game in keeping the ball low and flat bothered Batra throughout. It didn't help that Kamath was giving nothing away. The Delhi crowd chanted continuously and loudly in support for local girl Batra at the Thyagraj Stadium but it wasn't enough to up her game.
For once, in the third game, Kamath gave Batra some leeway. Her backhand had a tiny bit of air and it was enough for Batra to pounce, take control and force the Goa Challengers player on the defence. The point was grabbed with a ruthless, thumping smash and a reminder for Kamath that she couldn't afford to relax for a minute.
If the first and second games went close — partly due to Kamath's laxity and partly due to Batra's tenacity — the third was won by a healthy margin. Batra's errors and jittery strokes continued to increase, as did Kamath's points tally and inevitably the Mavericks Kolkata captain's frustration. She was put out of her misery soon enough and Goa Challengers laid the marker with a defiant 3-0 margin.
"Tactically Manika is a very complete player so you can't really go in with an idea in mind. I just wanted to play my game and I'm glad I did. I just wanted to attack, keep the ball short, but I also had to keep changing because she's an all-round player," said Kamath after the match.
She admitted that she wasn't surprised by how Batra approached the match and played through the three games. "There were quite a few mistakes from her side but I was just thinking about my game. But you know mistakes happen — today maybe she made a few but tomorrow I might make some. I didn't really notice that much," she went on to add.
Goa Challengers appeared to take that dominant win by Kamath as the motivation needed for subsequent matches. Alvaro Robles was run close by Sanil Shetty but having dropped the first game on a golden point, he recovered to win 10-11, 11-4, 11-5.
For the third match, the mixed doubles, Batra returned to partner Benedikt Duda to face Amalraj Anthony and Cheng I-Ching. Her lack of surety with shots and in returns showed in the beginning. But with Duda taking command, the Mavericks Kolkata pairing settled down. The teams split the first two games — 8-11 and 11-4 - before the third provided bit of drama.
Amalraj and Cheng had raced off to a comfortable and strong 6-0 lead on the back of rising error count by Batra and Duda. The deficit was reduced to a nervous 8-5 before being levelled at 9-9. But, the upset was denied with Amalraj and Cheng holding firm to seal the game 11-9 and the match to go 7-2 ahead in the tie.
The surprise results and upsets continued when India's Amalraj Anthony, ranked 122nd in the world, took down Germany's 53rd ranked Benedikt Duda 11-7, 10-11 and 11-4. With the first game win, though, Goa had ensured the required eight points to seal the tie.
The last game became a mere formality where Cheng I-Ching continued Goa's dominance with an 11-8, 9-11 and 11-5 win over Matilda Ekholm to cap off the tie with an 11-4 win.
Goa Challengers beat RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata 11-4
Women’s Singles – Archana Kamath beat Manika Batra 3-0 (11-9, 11-7,11-3)
Men’s Singles - Alvaro Robles beat Sanil Shetty 2-1 (10-11,11-4,11-5)
Mixed Doubles – Amalraj Anthony/Cheng I-Ching beat Benedikt Duda/Manika Batra 2-1 (8-11,11-4,11-9)
Men’s Singles – Amalraj Anthony beat Benedikt Duda – 2-1 (11-7,10-11,11-4)
Women’s Singles - Cheng I-Cheng beat Matilda Ekholm – 2-1 (11-8,9-11,11-5)
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2019 22:29:52 IST