India’s Sharath Kamal wins Oman Open to end ten-year title drought
India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal ended a ten-year title drought on Sunday when the No 4 seed claimed the ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open men's singles crown with a thrilling win over top-seeded Marcos Freitas of Portugal at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex (SQSC).
The 37 year old paddler, regarded as one of the best ever from his country, last won an ITTF title in 2010 in Cairo, Egypt when he beat Hong Kong’s Li Ching in the final. On Sunday, Sharath Kamal battled past a tough opponent in world No 26 Freitas. The Indian maintained his calm and composure to down Freitas in his first Challenger event final since Egypt Open to win 6-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 17-15.
The victory got Sharath Kamal a cash prize of US$8,000 and a glittering trophy. Speaking after the victory Sharath Kamal said, “I am proud with this achievement which came after ten years. I beat the top seed in the final after coming through some tough matches in the knockout stages. “It was a fantastic tournament despite the travel hazards and concerns over the coronavirus outbreak around the world. I am looking forward to defend my title in the next year.”
After losing the first game, Sharath Kamal fought back to stage a fine recovery from 3-7 down to win eight of the following nine points (11-8). Freitas then enjoyed a mini comeback of his own, saving two game points but couldn’t stop Sharath from winning the third game. Both the players scored alternate wins in games four and five before playing out a thrilling game six - Sharath Kamal saved two game points only for Freitas to rescue a championship point with an edge of the table winner.
The Indian then saved three further game points, before capitalising on his second championship point to seal the title. Since his win in Egypt Open Sharath Kamal had made two semifinal appearances (Morocco Open in 2011 and India Open in 2017) but couldn’t manage to get through it. Earlier in the semifinals, Sharath Kamal pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory against Russia’s Kirill Skachkov, winning 11-13, 11-13, 13-11, 11-9, 13-11, 8-11, 11-7 that lasted for one hour and eight minutes. Freitas entered final with a 5-11, 11-9, 6-11, 6-11, 11-8, 13-11, 11-3 win over Harmeet Desai.
Meanwhile, women's top seed, Hitomi Sato beat countrymate Miyu Kato in a gruelling duel as she prevailed 14-16, 12-14, 17-15, 11-9, 11-8, 11-9. It was her sixth such title at an open international tournament and her fifth on the ITTF Challenge Series. Three out of the four women’s singles semifinalists were from Japan; in addition to Sato and Kato, Honoka Hashimoto reached the penultimate round.
Hashimoto, the No 4 seed, lost to Sato (11-6, 8-11, 10-12, 11-9, 6-11, 11-3, 11-7) while Kato ended the hopes of Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin, the No 6 seed (11-9, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7). Meanwhile, Sharath Kamal's teammate, Harmeet Desai, who lost in the singles semifinals to Freitas earlier in the day and had reached doubles quarterfinals with Sharath said that playing in the event was physically and emotionally draining for the players. Desai said, “The situation is definitely not comfortable, playing a tournament when the world is going through a crisis. It was really tough, emotionally and mentally because it is a unique situation where every player has to take care of himself and also focus on his game.”
Serbia's Aleksandar Karakasevic and Lubomir Pistej, the No 3 seeds, beat the recently crowned Belgian champions, Martin Allegro and Florent Lambiet, the top seeds (11-8, 11-6, 11-6) to secure the men's doubles title. Hashimoto and Sato, the top seeds, beat Singapore’s Lin Ye and Zeng Jian, the No 2 seeds, to claim the women’s doubles title, winning 11-3, 11-9, 11-7.
In the mixed doubles category, the French duo Tristan and Laura Gasnier blanked Spain’s duo Maria Xiao and Alvaro Robles in the final, winning 11-7, 11-5, 11-7. Abdullah bin Mohammed Bamakhalef, Chairman of the Oman Table Tennis Committee (OTTC), was the chief guest and gave away the awards in the presence of Bahaa Mohammed al Lawati, deputy CEO of Omantel for commercial clients, Said al Sibani, project director at Oman Fiber Optic Company and Sajjad al Lawati, OTTC board member and competitions manager.
Later, Bamakhalef said that hosting the 2020 ITTF Challenge Plus (Oman Open 2020) for the second consecutive year was 'a big milestone for the sultanate'. He said, “Despite the challenges and difficulties, we managed to have a successful tournament. “There was lot of uncertainties till the last moment but we managed to host the event, which was the last sporting event in the sultanate, before a total freeze on all sports activities for a month in Oman due to growing coronavirus concerns.”