Of late, it’s a rarity for someone to defend the National title. But Sreeja Akula of RBI broke the jinx to win successive women’s singles crown when she beat Sutirtha Mukherjee of West Bengal 4-2 in the 84th UTT Inter-State Senior National Table Tennis Championships here at the Gymnasium Hall of Jammu University.
G. Sathiyan claimed his second men’s singles national title without breaking a sweat and beat Harmeet Desai in straight games. He won the first crown in 2021, beating his old foe Sharath Kamal in Panchkula Nationals. His efforts today fetched him Rs. 2.75 lakh in prize money.
Sreeja was scratchy in the final. Whenever in trouble, she found a way to extricate herself from depth to do the unexpected. In other words, Sutirtha must own up to the blame for letting her RBI opponent off the hook and not making the most of the best situations in the final. She was in hot form and had her forehand going well, executing some unbelievable crosscourt shots.
It is not to take the credit away from Sreeja as the RBI lass never relented from her attacking posture nor went into a shell. Sreeja did what was expected of her, particularly after she became the darling of the Indian crown when she and Sharath Kamal combined to win the first CWG mixed gold in Birmingham last year.
Though she won the first game, she should have taken at least two of three games as she held two game points in each. But Sreeja’s boldness and passive play Sutirtha changed the complexion and gave Sreeja a lease of life. Yet, the West Bengal woman, a former national champion, failed to press home the advantage, including in the sixth game, in which Sreeja won 14-12 to laugh her way to the bank with a prize purse of Rs. 2.75 lakh.
After the first semifinal between Sutirtha and Ayhika Mukherjee ended without a whimper, the second encounter between Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath had moments that kept the spectators glued to the action when the latter raised the pitch, giving a scare to the former.
Trailing 0-3, one would not have given the PSPB girl any chance. She switched into a sudden attacking mode, and it paid off with rewards in two successive games. But Archana’s earnest efforts in the sixth game failed to fetch the desired results as Ayhika shut her out quickly.
Sutirtha won the opening and closing games on extended points when Ayhika showed her gritty side to fight back. But the RBI woman could not produce what was needed to stop the former national champion from entering the final. Too many unforced errors only compounded her troubles, and she could not extricate herself from the tangle she got into.
But the men’s singles semi-finals dragged on before Sathiyan beat Manav Thakkar 4-2, and Harmeet Desai struggled past Manush Shah of RBI 4-3.
Sathiyan was in his zone in the final, exemplifying it with a fast-paced game against Harmeet. But the former’s superiority on the day was visible as he stroked his way with thundering forehands. His backhand, too, cooperated with him without brooking any challenges from Harmeet.
Except for the first game that became too close for his comfort, Sathiyan dominated the show and inched his way up with the win in every game. So frustrated was Harmeet he lost steam and the desire to push Sathiyan further, losing the fourth game tamely.
Sathiyan led 3-0 and was on the verge of closing out early. But to Sathiyan’s chagrin, Manav found a nice rhythm going into the fourth and fifth to bring down the margin to 2-3 as the match witnessed several long rallies and some great points won. He couldn’t do much after that as Sathiyan wrapped it up quickly in the next.
Precariously placed at 1-2 down, Harmeet upped the ante against the left-handed Manush and went 3-2 up. Manush brought the score level (3-3), and the issue went to the decider. Harmeet strengthened his position with a firm grip, thanks to a sizable lead, even as Manush kept netting the ball to add to his miseries.
In men’s doubles, Jeet Chandra and Ankur Bhattacharjee of West Bengal defeated Mohammed Ali and Vansh Singhal of Telangana in straight games to lift the trophy. Sreeja Akula and Diya Chitale combined well to beat the pair from Maharashtra, Swastika Ghosh and Shruti Amrute, 3-1 for the gold medal in the women’s doubles final.
In the mixed doubles final, Manav Thakkar and Ankur Bhattacharjee defeated Ankur Bhattacharjee and Moumita Datta from West Bengal 3-0. In the earlier round, the West Bengal pair had accounted for the top seeded Sathiyan and Manika Batra, also 3-0.
Men’s Singles: Final: G. Sathiyan (PPB) bt Harmeet Desai (PSPB) 11-9, 11-7, 11-8, 11-5.
Semi-finals: G. Sathiyan bt Manav Thakkar (PSPB) 13-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-1, 9-11, 11-5; Harmeet Desaia bt Manush Shah (RBI) 11-6, 3-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6.
Men’s Doubles: Final: Jeet Chandra/Ankur Bhattacharjee (WB) bt Mohammed Ali/Vansh Singhal (Telg) 11-6, 11-7, 11-6.
Semi-finals: Jeet Chandra/Ankur Bhattacharjee bt Akash Pal/Ravindra Kotiyan (RSPB) 9-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-7; Mohammed Ali/Vansh Singhal bt Aniket Choudhury/Soumyadeep Sarkar (WB) 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 11-2.
Women’s Singles: Final: Sreeja Akula (RBI) bt Sutirtha Mukherjee (WB) 9-11, 14-12, 11-7, 13-11, 6-11, 12-10.
Semi-finals: Sutirtha Mukherjee bt Ayhika Mukherjee (RBI) 12-10, 11-7, 11-5, 12-10; Sreeja Akula bt Archana Kamath (PSPB) 11-9, 11-3, 11-6, 9-11, 5-11, 11-7.
Women’s Doubles: Final: Sreeja Akula/Diya Chitale (RBI) bt Swastika Ghosh/Shruti Amrute (Mah) 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 14-12.
Semi-finals: Sreeja Akula/Diya Chitale bt Prapti Sen/Poymantee Baisya (WB) 11-6, 11-5, 2-11, 11-5; Swastika Ghosh/Shruti Amrute bt Radhapriya Goel/Nithyashree Mani (AAI) 11-4, 11-2, 3-11, 15-13.
Mixed Doubles: Final: Manav Thakkar/Archana Kamath (PSPB) bt Ankur Bhattacharjee/Moumita Datta (WB) 11-5, 14-12, 11-3.
Semi-finals: Ankur Bhattacahrjee/Moumita Datta bt G. Sathiyan/Manika Batra (PSPB) 11-6, 11-0, 11-0; Manav Thakkar/Archana Kamath bt Manush Shah/Sreja Akula (RBI) 11-9, 12-10, 10-12, 11-5.