Sathiyan Gnanasekaran came up with a special performance to win his maiden title at the 82nd Senior National Table Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
World No. 37 Sathiyan beat old rival and three-time Olympian Achanta Sharath Kamal 11-6, 11-7, 10-12, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8, thus denying the latter a record-extending tenth national title.
Sharath Kamal, who had earlier beaten protégé Manav Thakker in a thrilling six-game semi-final, began on the backfoot as he struggled to find his rhythm, consistently mishitting shots.
It allowed Sathiyan to build momentum and he capitalised on it, going cross-court with his shots to take the first two games.
Sharath Kamal then hit back. In a tightly contested third game, world No. 32 Sharath Kamal launched some of his trademark attacks, and though Sathiyan made some reflexive recoveries, Sharath Kamal was able to grind it out and win.
Buoyed by the third game, Sharath Kamal then seemed more confident in the fourth as he forced Sathiyan into a few errors and hit some powerful smashes to level the match at two games each.
In the fifth game, Sathiyan switched to serving from the middle of the table and alternated between the topspin and backspin serves to keep Sharath Kamal at bay.
While the veteran Olympian did stay in the game, even taking a two-point lead at 8-6, Sathiyan kept calm and found some joy down the line to claw back and win a decisive fifth game.
Sathiyan then played some simple table tennis in the sixth game – as he maintained his base at the side of the table and engaged in some rallies with Sharath Kamal, whose attacks did not have the bite of the earlier games.
G Sathiyan’s superior anticipation and reflexes helped him thwart Sharath Kamal’s smashes and in a departure from his generally demure shots, Sathiyan finished off the match with a powerful forehand, which Sharath Kamal returned into the net.
It was a euphoric moment for Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, who had reached the semi-finals and finals of the national championships thrice before, and he let out a huge roar when his dream finally came true.