New Delhi: Chennai Lions opened their account in the third edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) and they did so in glorious fashion with a comprehensive 10-5> win over Puneri Paltan on the fourth day of the competition. In the five-match format spread over three games each, Chennai had the tie wrapped up by the third match to take an unbeatable 8-1 lead.
Also getting back to winning ways was Petrissa Solja who gave Chennai a 3-0 lead and they never looked back. Solja had lost in her first singles match of the tournament, against U Mumba, when she was stunned by Sutirtha Mukherjee. On Sunday, though, she had no trouble dispatching another Indian and another Mukherjee in Ayhika Mukherjee.
Germany's 26th ranked Solja started better and had a decent lead but Mukherjee clawed her way back to force a golden point at 10-10. The Indian made an error at this crucial stage and handed the opening game to Chennai.
The second followed the same script with Ayhika repeating her mistakes after another. At one stage, following a silly forced error where her slider on serve went long, she pointed to her head and reminded herself to be smarter. Unfortunately for her, it was too little, too late to salvage something.
In comparison to the first two games, Ayhika started better in the third and led till the midway point. But a couple of backhand errors reversed the flow of things and Solja was back in control at 9-7. An error by Ayhika brought up match point and Solja got the job done with a big forehand winner. "I'm happy with my performance today. It was 10-10 in the first game but I had the confidence in myself to go ahead and win," she said following the 11-10, 11-6, 11-8 win.
If it was Solja that laid the marker for things to come later in the evening, it was Tiago Apolonia who was arguably the player of the fixture. On his 33rd birthday, the Portuguese displayed his experience in an extremely tense encounter against Harmeet Desai.
In the beginning, both players were cagey in their approach " almost weighing the other and their style. There were numerous stares throughout even as they mopped their hands and palms repeatedly to focus and gather themselves. There was little to separate the two in the first game before Desai opened things up late on to close the game out with a backhand drive winner.
If there was a little gap in the first game, even if late on, there were slim pickings in the second. Both players continued to cancel out their leads and inevitably it went to the golden point. Desai had the early opportunity to seal the game but an unfortunate brush of the net on the subsequent point brought things at 10-10. At this stage, Desai rushed into his service return and paid by hitting it straight into the net.
In the third game, the crowd was brought to its feet on the ninth point and was at its loudest when an attack vs defence exchange had Desai going for smash after another and Tiago getting each back. He got three smashes back before the angle opened up just enough for Desai to shift his body and the shape of the shot towards the corner and hoardings. The third game's closure, however, wasn't as close as the previous two games. Tiago brought up match point at 10-6 and his attacking play coupled with body language highlighted who was suddenly in control. The Portuguese player's thumping forehand into Desai's body went unreturned and he had won and given Chennai a 5-1 lead.
Tiago then looked away from the table, took in the adulation of the crowd, did a bit of a fixing his hair before walking up to shake hands. Following the match, he shook a leg in the Dance cam " the UTT equivalent of the kiss cam. If that wasn't done, the crowd sang 'Happy Birthday' for him and the previous loud reception had suddenly been matched, if not improved.
The next three matches couldn't quite well match the quality of the first two singles matches. Sharath Kamal and Solja of Chennai Lions beat Desai and Sabine Winter of Puneri Paltan 11-7, 11-7, 11-6 to take an unbeatable 8-1 lead. In so doing, the next two matches became inconsequential. Chuang Chih-Yuan beat Kamal 11-5, 11-10, 3-11 and then Madhurika Patkar lost to Winter 8-11, 11-5, 10-11.
Chennai Lions beat Puneri Paltan: 10-5
Women's Singles: Petrissa Solja beat Ayhika Mukherjee - 3-0 (11-10, 11-6, 11-8)
Men's Singles: Tiago Apolonia beat Harmeet Desai 2-1 (8-11, 11-10, 11-7)
Mixed Doubles: Sharath Kamal-Petrissa Solja beat Harmeet Desai-Sabine Winter 3-0 (11-7, 11-7, 11-6)
Men's Singles: Sharath Kamal lost to Chuang Chih-Yuan 1-2 (5-11, 10-11, 11-3)
Women's Singles: Madhurika Patkar lost to Sabine Winter 1-2 (8-11, 11-5, 11-10)