Balancing atop a digital advertising board like a trapeze artist was Tiago Apolonia with his arms aloft. His celebrations didn't cease even as he wavered backwards from the board, arresting his fall just in time to land smoothly. Those visuals can perhaps be best used, to sum up, the utter and complete dominance of Apolonia's team, Chennai Lions' in the final of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) season three.
This 👇🏻 breathtaking rally by @sathiyantt & @TiagoApolonia left every viewer in awe and is bestowed with the 'Rally of the Day' (Male) 🔥👏🏻#LevelAlagHai #CHEvDEL | @DabangSmashers @chennailionsttc pic.twitter.com/8lrF9z0Yil
" Ultimate TableTennis (@UltTableTennis) August 11, 2019
After the viewers were treated to agonisingly close 8-7 finishes in both the semi-finals, the final was an anti-climax of epic proportions where Chennai Lions pulled off a stunning coup. Their 8-1 demolition of their opponents Dabang Delhi will go down in UTT folklore for it featured Chennai playing out of their skins, leaving Delhi gasping for breath in the face of the onslaught.
It was also, a perfect testimony to the fickle nature of sporting contests, where even the teams looking strongest on paper, can whittle embarrassingly under the pressure of expectations.
Chennai got off to a rollicking start as Petrissa Solja started proceedings with a couple of sharp cross-court forehands. The topspin on those shots helped the ball zip across as Delhi's Bernadette Szocs failed to bring her backhand down in time.
All the while, the World No 14 Bernadette looked a different self than the one who had come out all guns blazing against U Mumba's Doo Hoi Kem in the first semi-final. If anything, it was Petrissa who seemed to be mirroring Bernadette's earlier self as she never let up on her attacking instincts. It was perhaps that single-minded intent to go for the kill come what may which helped Petrissa ace her forehands consistently.
Petrissa had won the first game and gained a 7-3 lead in the second. That gave her the license to go for broke and jump at the half-chances coming her way. The few shots which went wide didn't seem to bother her or trouble the scores as she soon closed out the second game too.
A consolation win in the third left Bernadette ecstatic at pocketing an important point for her team. However, what happened soon after deflated her and the entire Delhi dugout's hopes for a revival.
The second match of the tie pitted Dabang Delhi's G Sathiyan against Chennai Lions' Portuguese import, Apolonia. Sathiyan's stupendous form this season, where he lost just one out of his six matches leading up to the final, hadn't escaped anyone's notice.
It's nothing short of tragic that despite Sathiyan's impressive performances in the entire league, what people are bound to remember the most of him will be him being pummelled by the rampaging Apolonia in the all-important final.
From the outset, Apolonia had Sathiyan trapped in playing a game he was visibly not comfortable with. The Chennai player's propensity to flick the ball from over the net for winners had Sathiyan moving away from the table to stand a chance of making his returns.
For the duration of the entire match, Sathiyan, who is ranked 24 in the word to Tiago's 52, looked out of sorts. His forehands felt powerless when countered with Apolonia's deft precision on his backhand.
The archetypical European ploy in table tennis " moving away from the table, stretching the rallies by inviting the opponent to hit his forehand smashes, then finding one's moment to switch to the forehand offence " couldn't have seen a better demonstration than the one by Apolonia as he pulled off a huge 3-0 upset against Sathiyan in the second match of the tie.
That left Delhi trailing 1-5 in the tie. They needed to do what Sharath Kamal had done last night for Chennai Lions in their semi-final to narrowly edge past Goa Challengers 8-7.
However, as fate would have it, Sharath Kamal firmly stopped Delhi in their tracks once and for all, proving why not many can pull off what he does. The 37-year-old Sharath Kamal, a veteran of the sport in India, and Petrissa Solja were unbeaten in the mixed doubles as they readied to face another unbeaten pairing in Sathiyan and Szocs. Those expecting a tight finish in the mixed doubles were in for a rude shock. As the match progressed, the Chennai pair's punishing play had Sathiyan and Bernadette staring down the barrel of what was to be a tame surrender.
There were moments where Sathiyan fumed at the horrors he was committing with his backhand repeatedly. When he wasn't, he fumed at his partner for letting the chances slip by. Nothing helped though for by the looks of it, the day was destined to belong to Chennai Lions who capped off the final with a 3-0 win in the mixed doubles. They won the tie 8-1, not troubling themselves with having to play the remaining two matches of the tie.
Chennai Lions bt Dabang Delhi TTC 8-1
Women's Singles: Petrissa Solja bt Bernadette Szocs 2-1 (11-5, 11-4, 9-11)
Men's Singles: Tiago Apolonia bt Sathiyan G. 3-0 (11-6, 11-7, 11-9)
Mixed Doubles: Sharath Kamal/Petrissa Solja bt Sathiyan G/Bernadette Szocs 3-0 (11-7, 11-2, 11-3)