Indian men's table tennis team retained its Commonwealth Games gold medal after a close fight against Singapore in Birmingham on Tuesday. The gold was India's seventh since the sport's introduction in Manchester in 2002.
Harmeet Desai raised his game in the decisive singles as the Indian men's table tennis team retained its Commonwealth Games gold medal after a close fight against Singapore in Birmingham on Tuesday.
World no. 121 Harmeet outsmarted 133rd-ranked Zhe Yu Clarence Chew 11-8, 11-5, 11-6 in the third singles to ensure India's third men's team gold medal in CWG history.
The gold was India's seventh since the sport's introduction in Manchester in 2002. India were expected to beat Singapore but Clarence accounted for veteran Sharath Kamal in the first singles to level the match 1-1. Harmeet and Sathiyan had little difficulty in getting past Yong Izaak Que and Ye En Koen Pang in the opening doubles.
Sathiyan had given India a 2-1 lead with a 12-10, 7-11, 11-7. 11-4 victory over lower-ranked Pang. He overcame a four-point deficit to win the first game and that gave him a lot of confidence. However, the stand-out performer was India's third player, Harmeet.
Sharath had struggled to contain Clarence but Harmeet went on the offensive against the left-hander and ensured that he did not get room to go for his powerful forehand winners. Harmeet's backhand was also on fire as he won a majority of the long rallies. His service variation also troubled the Singaporeans.
In the first singles, Sharath went down 7-11, 14-12, 3-11, 9-11 against Clarence. Whenever the Indian placed the ball deep on Clarence's forehand, the return was a winner. Two net chords helped Sharath in the second game but Clarence comfortably won the next two.
India had beaten a stronger opponent in Nigeria on Monday with Sharath stunning world number 15 Aruna Quadri. But his loss against a much lower ranked opponent on Tuesday showed rankings did not matter much in a multi-sporting event. India had won the team gold for the first time in Melbourne in 2006 before repeating the feat in Gold Coast four years ago. It was also Sharath's 10th medal in the Games' history and he is set to add more with singles and doubles events to follow. While 40-year-old Sharath stole the show against Nigeria, Harmeet rose to the occasion against Singapore.
"The difference was in Harmeet's serves. My serves he (Clarence) was receiving really well, I never felt comfortable in the whole match. But Harmeet was fantastic with his serves, the way he attacked, the whole flow was perfect," said Sharath. Singapore, who are not the force they once were when Gao Ning was around, played with no fear after a surprise win over England on Monday.
"Both the left-handers went all out as if they had nothing to lose. They were firing rockets. We didn't know how to handle that exactly," said Sharath. What also worked for Harmeet in the final match was staying calm even when Clarence was attacking. "Sharath bhai was a bit passive. I was focussing on changing my serves all the time, serving some times on the back hand and short on forehand and also long serves. Sharath bhai didn't serve long which I observed. "Considering the occasion, surely one the biggest wins of my career," remaked Harmeet.
Sharath's loss was the team's only defeat in the competition, summing up India's dominance. "We have never won a CWG gold in this convincing manner. A big reason for that is that we have three players at the same level. It wasn't the case before 2018," added Sharath who has his sights firmly set on Paris 2024 before retiring from the game.