Wuxi (China), April 10 (IANS) Veteran table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal led from the front as the Indian men's team beat Thailand 3-1 to enter the final of the First Division category at the Asian Championships here on Monday.
The Indians, who also secured a spot in the quarter-finals of the Champions Division, will meet North Korea in the First Division final. The Koreans defeated Iran 3-0 in the other semi-final of the First Division category.
This was the second occasion that the Indians have made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions Division of the Asian event where they have been drawn to meet Japan.
Kamal's form was crucial on the day for the Indians as he was the one who got the team across the line.
Padasak Tanviriyavechakul provided a rousing start to Thailand by beating G. Sathiyan 11-9, 11-6, 14-12 in the opening singles match.
But the tie turned on its head when Sharath entered the arena, calming down the nerves of the Indian bench with a straight games triumph of 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 against Supanut Wisutmaythangkoon.
Sharath returned soon after to make sure that the Indians were not denied a place in the main draw when he defeated Padasak 11-7, 11-6, 11-4, despite the Thai being very strong with his forehands.
The tall Indian star was at his best in the crucial rubber and reeled off winners after winners with his backhand working well.
"In the first match against Supanut I was down 3-8, but came back to win 11-9. That gave me the confidence against Padasak. I never let him play to his strength, his fierce forehands," Sharath said later.
In between, an aggressive Harmeet Desai consolidated India's position with a hard-fought 15-13, 14-16, 11-8, 11-5 victory over Pattaratom Passara, who is a strong backhand player.
"I was down 5-9 but the win in the first game was crucial. Thereafter, I was able to build my game as the match progressed and kept varying my service and hitting wide of his forehand," Harmeet said.
In the first stage, the Indian men were drawn with Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan in Group B. The Indians toyed with both teams, recording identical 3-0 wins in both ties.
The Indian women's team was not as successful however. They could not progress beyond the semi-finals of the First Division as they went down 1-3 to Taiwan. This means that the Indian women will now have to compete for the 9-12 positions.
They will now take on Malaysia on Tuesday in the match for the ninth position.
Earlier, they had beaten Kazakhstan 3-0 in the quarter-finals as Manika Batra, Mouma Das and Suthirtha Mukherjee made a mockery of their opponents with easy wins in their respective singles matches.
But against Taiwan, the going got tough as Mouma lost 6-11, 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, 6-11 to Cheng I-Ching despite putting up a brave show.
Even Manika, who won the first two games against Chen Szu-Yu, failed to sustain the momentum and lost 11-3, 11-8, 9-11, 3-11, 6-11.
The only saving grace for the Induan women's team was national champion Madhurika Patkar who defeated the higher-ranked Cheng Hsien-Tzu 11-7, 8-11, 11-4, 14-12 to restore some pride. But Manika lost her reverse singles match 8-11, 14-12, 3-11, 9-1 to Cheng.
In the first stage, the Indian women were drawn in Group C alongside Uzbekistan and Maldives and had an easy passage into the second stage with 3-0 wins in both matches.