Thiruvananthapuram: It took him almost three years for a national ranking title to come his way. But the sixth-seeded Harmeet Desai emerged as the deserving winner when he beat Sushmit Sriram of Tamil Nadu 4-1 to hoist the men singles trophy in the UTT National Ranking (South Zone) Table Tennis Championships at the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.
Only on Saturday, Harmeet’s name was recommended for the Arjuna Award and he could now celebrate the occasion along with the victory achieved today. The PSPB paddler’s previous title came in 2016 during the Central Zone championships at Indore when he beat Subhajit Saha, his victim in the quarterfinals here.
In fact, the 26-year-old from Surat did not have to toil much in the final. His Tamil Nadu opponent Sushmit was patchy and could not push Harmeet to the corner as he did against Sanil Shetty in the semis.
The Gujarat lad had the right measure of his rival and drove himself into a defensive mode, upsetting Sushmit’s calculation. The basically attacking Tamil Nadu paddler was taken aback by Harmeet’s ploy as he controlled the pace nicely. Yet, he managed to take a game off him and put up a good fight in the next before Harmeet claimed the last two points after deuce. The win was worth Rs. 77,000 in cash prize.
In women singles final, seventh-seed Ayhika Mukherjee made most of the occasion—all real contenders fell by the wayside earlier than one expected—to defeat a tired Selenadeepthi Selvakumar 4-2 to claim her maiden crown.
But, for a moment in the match, Selena led 2-1 and looked like making another upset. But the RBI woman stroked well and won some crucial winners which helped win the fourth game and give her a distinct advantage.
Seizing the moment, she improved her game even as the Tamil Nadu paddler was struggling on her reliable backhand. The occasional forehands did fetch her points but they were not good enough on the day as Ayhika sewn up the match to pocket the cash prize of Rs. 66,000. And Selena had to satisfy herself with half the amount.
But that should not deter the Tamil Nadu girl as she had earlier pooh-poohed the challenge from Railways Kaushani Nath to win the Youth Girls title and the winner’s purse of Rs. 30,800 to go home richer. Selena proved too good for the Railways player who could not avert the 4-0 demolition.
Eighth seeded Sushmit, with full of talent, never justified it when he faced a crunch situation. But today it was different. After his semi-final exit in last year’s Institutional championships at Coimbatore, he grabbed the opportunities with both hands to enter his maiden final of a national ranking tournament.
In a critical condition at 1-3 and with the left-handed Sanil Shetty on the ascendancy, the Tamil Nadu player never switched off his attacking posture. He not only drove brilliantly but also countered Shetty well, tackling the angles that posed problems for him. In fact, his relentless attacks proved to be the undoing for Shetty who, after dropping the fifth game, could not cope with the pressure. It mounted with increasing pace in the next two games as Sushmit seized the moments well to enter his maiden singles final.
Soumyajit Ghosh, on the other hand, was well and truly on his way. He gave a few glimpses of it in this tournament, including in the semi-final against Harmeet Desai. But lacking in consistency and playing from his memories, he became an easy meat for the Gujarat man. In the fifth game, the Haryana paddler saved three match points to delay the inevitable. But Harmeet hit back taking nine points on the trot in the next before conceding one to seal his fate.
However, the surprising aspect of the championships was Selena’s entry into both women and Youth Girls singles and with some authority. First, the Tamil Nadu girl beat Senhora D’Souza rather easily as the Bank of Baroda player failed to restrain an in-form Jawahar Vidhyalaya academy student.
The Chennai girl, who had often messed it up in earlier stages of the women singles, played a percentage game to book her berth in the final. Then she intently followed it up with another final place in the Youth Girls when she ousted top-seeded Prapti Sen 4-2. The unseeded Tamil Nadu girl, fresh from her exploits in women singles, gained in confidence after levelling 2-2 as she decimated the West Bengal paddler in the next two with a lot to spare.
Unfortunately, talented left-hander Shruti Amrute failed to do a Selena, losing both her women and Youth Girls singles semi-finals. The Railways player first lost to seventh seed Ayhika Mukherjee (1-4) and then to Kaushani Nath (3-4), also of the Railways. However, the only difference was the intensity with which she approached the two matches. Shruti showed a lot of verve in the latter against Kaushani and dragged the match up to the decider. Probably, the loss she suffered in women singles had a role to play.
Men: Final: Harmeet Desai (PSPB) bt Sushmit Sriram (TN) 11-6, 11-8, 11-5, 6-11, 12-10; Semi-finals: Sushmit Sriram bt Sanil Shetty (PSPB) 8-11, 11-7, 11-13, 4-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-6; Harmeet Desai bt Soumyajit Ghosh (Har) 11-3, 11-9, 9-11, 11-2, 10-12, 11-2.
Women: Final: Ayhika Mukherjee (RBI) Selenadeepthi Selvakumar (TN) 11-6, 10-12, 11-13, 11-9, 11-7, 11-7; Semi-finals: Selenadeepthi Selvakumar bt Senhora D’Souza (BoB) 11-6, 11-7, 11-6, 3-11, 11-9; Ayhika Mukherjee bt Shruti Amrute (Rlys) 9-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-3, 11-8.
Youth Girls: Final: Selenadeepthi Selvakumar (TN) bt Kaushani Nath (Rlys) 11-5, 17-15, 13-11, 11-7; Semi-finals: Selenadeepthi bt Prapti Sen (WB) 8-11, 11-5, 4-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6; Kaushani Nath bt Shruti Amrute (Rlys) 11-9, 10-12, 9-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.