Paddlers Sharath, Mouma qualify for Olympics

Hong Kong: Indian table tennis stars Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das produced superb performances in the men’s and women’s singles categories respectively at the Asian qualifiers to book their berths for the Rio Olympics here on Saturday.

Kamal defeated Noshad Alamiyan of Iran 12-14, 11-6, 3-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6 in the men’s singles final at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium.

Mouma, on the other hand, lost to Ri Myong Sun of North Korea by straight games in the final before defeating Uzbekistan’s Rimma Gufranova 11-13, 11-9, 13-11, 11-7, 12-10 in the battle for third place to qualify for Rio.

Sharath, who made his first Olympic appearance at Athens in 2004, thus made amends for missing out on qualifying for the London Olympics in 2012. A maximum of two players per country is allowed to compete in both the singles event at the Games. And, for the first time, India will be represented by a full four-member squad at Rio.

After spending a relaxed night following his tough win over Saudi adversary Ali Alkhadrawi, Sharath knew it was going to be a testing contest against the 25-year-old Alamiyan. His pre-match calculations proved right as Sharath was down 1-3 after the fourth game and all hopes of his third appearance at the Games seemed dissipated.

“When I was trailing 1-3, my mind was all about the next match that I will have to play if I lose this one. If I had lost, I would have to play against Jiang Tianyi (of China) and I’m not fit because of my back injury,” the Indian veteran admitted.

It was then Kamal brought to the fore his grit and experience and putting them together went on a rampage. Unable to withstand Sarath’s combination drives-his backhand worked very well today-the Iranian wilted under pressure as the Indian went from strength to strength to win the next three games.

“My back is totally plastered and I’m in pain everywhere. I couldn’t afford to lose and play one more match,” Kamal said.

“I seemed to have lost my motivation but in the fifth game I made a good start and the tide changed, I started to dominate the match.”

Talking on his first and fourth games, Kamal said,”In the first game, I was up 8-5 and lost 14-12. That put more pressure on me. In the fourth, I was 6-2 up and lost eight points in a row. Those games made a big difference and if I had won them, it would have been an easier match. But, of course, if it was easy it wouldn’t have been fun.”

Incidentally, this was the 34-year-old’s fifth win over Alamiyan and the Indian rated this as a huge one. “After all, this was Olympic qualification and this would be there at the top of all my wins against him,” he said.

In the women’s section, Mouma had a much tougher task in the final round, going down 3-11, 9-11, 10-12, 5-11 to Sun in the morning.

Later, in the loser’s final, the 32-year-old defeated Rimma 11-13, 11-9, 13-11, 11-7, 12-10 in a one-sided contest to book one of the two Olympic slots.

For Mouma, it will be her second Olympics as she had first competed in the singles event at Athens along with Sharath in 2004.

“Though I was a bit nervous, I knew I can beat my opponent. After the first game got extended, I was more determined. But she was really good and challenged me at every stage. The win in the third game was crucial and despite losing two match points in the fifth, I was sure I am close to clinching the berth,” the five-time national champion said.