On a night when many were hoping for RPSG Mavericks Kolkata to wow the crowd in their final hurrah, facing a must-win situation against Chennai Lions, their players found themselves wilting under the pressure and bowing out tamely from season three of the Ultimate Table Tennis League (UTT).
The Mavericks' Sanil Shetty played with abandon and went for his shots on a night when nothing went his team's way. Sanil, who'd won just one of his singles matches thus far, had nothing to lose. It was time to let go of the inhibitions and play his natural game.
He did exactly that but fortune never favoured him. He landed the more difficult shots, prompting cries of exultation from his dugout, but surprisingly failed to slot the dollies on his forehand for winners.
The 29-year-old Sanil, trailing 9-10 in the first game of the men's singles match against Chennai Lions' Tiago Apolonia, hit a thumping forehand which drew a weak backhand return from his opponent.
The ball sat up perfectly for him. His eyes lit up as he flitted across the mat, into position and swung for a winner, but completely missed the ball in flight, swishing only at the air. The crowd gasped in unison as Sanil looked up to the heavens.
Despite the setback, he remained steadfast in his approach. Tiago would stretch the rallies with his good defence, playing the backhand drive tactfully. However, Sanil didn't mind hitting the extra forehand and won the longer rallies.
Nevertheless, Tiago maintained an iron grip on his comfortable lead, not hitting many winners but drawing errors from Sanil by rushing him onto the forehand, forcing him to hit wildly and land the ball high and dry.
The 32-year-old Tiago closed out the second game 11-6 before Sanil bounced back spectacularly in the third. The Mavericks' player, ranked 252nd in the world, showed glimpses of brilliance as he never allowed the rallies to fester to a point where Tiago would have an opening.
Despite the Chennai player's persistent defensive play, Sanil wouldn't let up and kept hitting the overhead forehand smashes until Tiago had too much of a gap between him and the table.
Sanil won the third game 11-3 and belittled his lowly world ranking in the process.
The Chennai Lions were now, leading 5-1 in the tie. Earlier, Kolkata's Matilda Ekholm had lost 0-3 to Chennai's Petrissa Solja in the opening match. The mixed doubles offered some promise for Kolkata when the pair of Manika Batra and Benedikt Duda won the first game on golden point.
However, those hopes were dashed as the Chennai pair of Achanta Sharath Kamal and Petrissa Solja won the next two games to pocket the match and take a commanding lead of 7-2 in the tie.
With chances of victory looking daunting, there was just pride left to be salvaged for Kolkata. Benedikt Duda rose to the occasion as he faced a known rival in Chennai's Sharath Kamal. Both the players had played against each other previously in the German Table Tennis Bundesliga and seemed to have chalked the other's tactics beforehand.
Both looked adept at hitting winners off the other's serve, the game moving along at a brisk pace. Duda's angled forehands were laced with heavy topspin, not allowing Sharath much leeway to play a proper shot, and winning him the first game 11-7.
Sharath Kamal charted his way back in the second game. Twice, Duda scrambled away from the table but was afforded no time by the 37-year-old Sharath Kamal whose forehands left him lurching sideways but failing to return.
Sharath won the second game 11-5. Thereon, each point assumed a more physical tone in the third game with the rally of the day presenting itself.
In the course of that rally, Duda hit a piercing forehand down Sharath Kamal's wrong side. The ball took a heavy spin off the table and was speeding away from the veteran who scrambled back just enough to play a safe backhand chop. Duda dropped the ball short then for Sharath Kamal who staggered ahead.
The Chennai player then merely lobbed the ball which fondled the net before dropping for a lucky point on the other side, irretrievable for Duda who chuckled at the turn of events.
Duda may have lost the point but won that third game and the match 2-1 to save his team, the ignominy of another loss in the tie.
However, soon enough, Manika Batra nullified those gains as she lost her reverse singles match to Chennai's Madhurika Patkar 0-3, capping off a forgettable season for her in the UTT.
With their 11-4 win over Kolkata, the Chennai Lions also inched a step closer to the semifinals where U Mumba and Dabang Delhi TTC have already booked their spots.
Chennai Lions bt RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata: 11-4 >Womens Singles: Petrissa Solja bt Matilda Ekholm 3-0 (11-7, 11-10, 11-9) >Mens Singles: Tiago Apolonia bt Sanil Shetty 2-1 (11-9, 11-6, 3-11 ) >Mixed Doubles: Sharath Kamal/ Petrissa Solja bt Benedikt Duda/ Manika Batra 2-1 (10-11, 11-4, 11-7) >Mens Singles: Sharath Kamal lost to Benedikt Duda 1-2 (7-11, 11-5, 7-11) >Womens Singles: Madhurika Patkar bt Manika Batra - 3-0 (11-5, 11-10, 11-8)