Giant-killer Sreeja emerges women champion; Amalraj opens season with title triumph

Amalraj TTSonepat: Akula Sreeja did the unthinkable. Making most of the lack of confidence in her opponent, the Reserve Bank of India girl beat Haryana’s Sutirtha Mukherjee 4-2 in the final of the UTT National Ranking Table Tennis Championships (North Zone) and lift her maiden trophy in women singles final at the DPS Hall here today.

Sreeja’s cool head and uncomplicated game plan kept her in contention right from the quarterfinal when she ousted the seeded Sagarika Mukherjee last night. She won a tough semi-final which must have done a world of good when she faced Suthirtha in the final.

The little girl from Hyderabad was down 0-2 but the win in the third extended game changed the complexion of her approach even as the Haryana girl, a former national champion and No. 4 seed, seemed to have dropped her guard at the crucial junctures. Sreeja won the next game, again on extended points, before sealing her opponent’s fate with two more wins—the last two going her way with minimal points.

An elated Sreeja was on cloud nine when she said: “It was unexpected. But the win against Anusha (Kutumbale) gave me the confidence. After winning the third and fourth games in the final, I knew I needed a bit of luck to clinch it,” said the RBI girl.

In men singles, Anthony Amalraj was in the best form of his life when he beat top-seeded Manav Thakkar 4-1. It must have been the easiest of finals that Amalraj had played in several seasons, particularly after a tough semi-final against Sudhanshu Grover earlier in the day.

Manav was unlike himself, lacking focus while Amalraj was both quick in executing his shots and establishing a comfortable 3-0 lead. His crisp shot from close to the table and those returns from way straight made him the favourite. So much so, Manav was struggling to cope with the speedy Amalraj and yet managed to take a game off him. But it was too late in the day as Amalraj quickly pulled the shutter down on him.

Except for the two semi-finals, one each in men singles and women singles, the other semi-finals went down to the wire with Amalraj overcoming a stiff resistance by Sudhanshu Grover and Akula Sreeja from Anusha Kutumbale.

Manav dropped just one game after leading 2-0 before stifling out the left-handed Sanil Shetty who was all over and could not cope with the guile of Manv. On the other hand, it was a tough fight for the experienced Amalraj who got a real scare from his PSPB mate, Sudhanshu, who took the fifth and sixth games to level the score to take it to the decider. Amalraj simply pooh-poohed the threat and disposed Sudhanshu in the decider, stopping him at just two points.

Similarly, it was rather easy for Haryana’s Suthirtha who blanked out reigning national champion Archana Kamath. However, the rug-of-war was witnessed in the second semi-final with the pendulum of fortune swinging from one end to another as both Sreeja and Anusha kept winning the alternate games. Even in the decider, the game got extended but after deuce Sreeja showed enormous maturity against a nervous Anusha to win the last two crucial points to clinch the berth in her maiden final.


Men: Final: Anothny Amalraj (PSPB) bt Manav Thakkar (PSPB) 11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8; Semi-finals: Manav Thakkar bt Sanil Shetty (PSPB) 11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-6, A. Amalraj bt Sudhanshu Grover (PSPB) 8-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-8, 11-13, 8-11, 11-2.

Women: Final: Akula Sreeja (RBI) bt Sutirtha Mukherjee (HRN) 6-11, 7-11, 14-12, 13-11, 11-9, 11-9; Semi-finals: Sutirtha Mulherjee bt Archana Kamath (PSPB) 12-10, 12-10, 11-8, 11-5, Akula Sreeja bt Anusha Kutumbale (MP) 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 5-11, 11-7, 3-11, 12-10.