UTT 2019: Anthony Amalraj, Alvaro Robles defy rankings, odds to help Goa Challengers narrowly beat Dabang Delhi
Goa Challengers won the match against a visibly stronger Dabang Delhi as their Indian players defied rankings to perform well in their singles matches
Delhi's Bernadette Szocs won her two matches but suffered an injury which could hamper Delhi's chances going ahead in competition
Alvaro Robles won reverse men's singles against higher ranked G Sathiyan to square tie, leaving it to Archana Kamath to win match for Goa
Archana Kamath's 2-1 win in the reverse women's singles against Krittwika Sinha Roy clinched the victory for Goa Challengers
On paper, Dabang Delhi were the favourites to win their tie against the Goa Challengers. Their world number 19 women’s singles player Bernadette Szocs was facing the 20-year-old Indian junior Shruti Amrute who is playing her debut season in the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT). Further, Delhi’s G Sathiyan, the highest-ranked Indian at world number 24, was slotted to face Goa’s Alvaro Robles from Spain, ranked 56 in the world.
However, the results evidenced why rankings matter little in a sport like table tennis, particularly in UTT where the intensity of the format can have the most seasoned professionals wilting under the weight of expectations.
In the opening game, Bernadette began with a flurry of points, changing her serve frequently and inducing errors.
Shruti failed to engage her opponent in long rallies. Bernadette closed out the points by pushing the ball down Shruti’s backhand.
She won the first two games but Shruti rallied back in the third, making the switch in her stance and sticking her forehands. She did so, compensating for the backhand errors which never ceased.
The third game kept level until the golden point when Shruti held on long enough for Bernadette to go for the kill and miss her shot. Losing the opening match by a 1-2 margin felt like a steal for Goa, more so for Shruti who gave a fine account of how her debut season in the UTT had brought on a visible amelioration in her skills set.
Speaking post the match, Goa coach Bettine Vriesekoop lauded Shruti’s win in the third game of her match: “She played great. We weren’t expecting that to be honest. In the women's singles, we usually try to play a foreign player against a foreign player but sometimes, we can't predict which player the other team will play” she said.
“Even in defeat, that 1-2 margin felt like a psychological boost for us because trailing 0-3 after the opening match would have been too much.”
Goa went on to pile the pressure as Amalraj Anthony nullified the attacking play of Delhi’s Jon Persson, owing largely to a deft backhand while moving away from the table.
Amalraj trumped Persson in the longer rallies, his backhand keeping the ball in play long enough for Persson to swing wild and land the ball high and dry, near the players’ box on occasion. In his last match against Achanta Sharath Kamal of Chennai Lions, Amalraj had narrowly lost 11-2, 9-11, 10-11.
Post that match, Sharath Kamal had talked about Amalraj’s speed forcing him to move away from the table and defend. After Friday’s match, Amalraj’s coach had the same to say about her player. “We work on his speed because we feel that he can wow his opponent, really unsettle them,” said Bettine. “It helps of course that he’s usually very confident and self-assured so he goes for his shots without flinching for a second.”
Delhi’s mixed doubles pair of G Sathiyan and Bernadette Szocs pulled one back in the third match of the tie, winning 2-1 and taking the score of the tie to 5-4 in their favour. However, Goa’s Alvaro Robles came and Delhi’s one-point advantage in the tie went bust. Alvaro won his match against G Sathiyan 2-1, owing majorly to his backhand snapping at the ball even when standing at a fair distance from the table.
Early on, Sathiyan went about swatting the ball both ways and gained three straight points in the first game. That was until Alvaro wowed the crowd by turning his defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
The highlight of the match being when Alvaro, yet again pushed away from the table by a rampaging Sathiyan, went about playing high-arc lobs and inviting Sathiyan to smash. Sathiyan did so, only to have Alvaro swat the ball like an overhead tennis shot, sending it zipping through the air, landing deep on Sathiyan’s side who failed to keep his return on the table. On one occasion, Alvaro even tried a double-handed backhand but that seemed more out of jest for having been pushed too far behind the table.
After the reverse men’s singles, the tie score read 6-6 with the reverse women’s singles set to be the decider. The final match saw Goa's Archana Kamath beat Krittwika Sinha Roy 2-1, with the third game being the deciding game for the tie.
Goa, by far the most dominant team in this season, moved to the top of the table with 26 points from their 3 matches. Delhi, on the other hand, are now languishing at the fourth spot with more bad news coming their way.
Their star player Bernadette Szocs, who was playing with her hamstrings strapped, did manage to shoulder on for a win in both her matches but further aggravated her injury in the process. Post the win in the mixed doubles, Bernadette was seen clutching her battered leg, the pain showing on her face as her team-mates and coaches hovered around her.
When asked about Bernadette’s injury, Delhi’s Coach Vesna Ojstersek lamented about it being a bad day for her side: “We’ve had a really bad day. First, Persson had some issues in the morning because of which he couldn’t practice and I think it showed in his game as he wasn’t playing very well,” said Vesna. “Now Bernadette is injured and it’s looking bad. Still too early to say. We’ll get the full report tomorrow. But I think she was in tears thinking she won’t play further so I feel like she’ll still try and play with her injury.”
Goa Challengers beat Dabang Delhi TTC 8-7
Women’s Singles: Shruti Amrute lost to Bernadette Szocs 1-2 (8-11, 8-11, 11-10)
Men’s Singles: Amalraj Anthony beat Jon Persson 2-1 (11-7, 8-11, 11-8)
Mixed Doubles: Alvaro Robles/ Archana Kamath lost to Sathiyan Gnanasekaran/ Bernadette Szocs 1-2 (11-10, 9-11, 8-11 )
Men’s Singles: Alvaro Robles beat Sathiyan Gnanasekaran 2-1 (11-9, 11-8, 5-11 )
Women’s Singles: Archana Kamath beat Krittwika Sinha Roy 2-1 (6-11,11-2,11-8)
Malik, despite now focussing only on T20 format since retiring from Test and ODI matches, has been kept out of the Pakistan white ball squad since last year as head coach Misbah-ul-Haq keep on trying several new players in the batting order.
Groenewegen has not raced since August 5 when he provoked a crash in the sprint at the end of the first stage in Poland that left fellow Dutch sprinter Jakobsen with injuries that included several skull fractures.
"Dadi Chandro Tomar has tested positive for coronavirus and has been admitted to a hospital due to a breathing problem. God protect all - Family," a tweet on her page read.