“I am tired but I cannot stop smiling,” an exhausted Sharath Kamal exclaimed through the phone from Oman after beating top seed Marcos Freitas to win his first tour title after 10 years at the Oman Open in Muscat on Sunday.
The 37-year-old paddler beat world No. 26 Portuguese 6-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 17-15 in the summit clash, which seemed well under fourth seed Sharath’s control.Sharath lost the first game, owing to Freitas’ brilliance where he executed the backhand push perfectly. The world No. 38 was furious after the game. “I was not connecting my shots perfectly. But I knew where I had to make the amends. I just had to get into the rhythm,” Sharath told TOI.
He found his tempo though, winning the next three games with a bit of fortune and class at the same time. Freitas, on the other hand, was more flustered with each game that he lost. However, he roared back to win the fifth game. The Portuguese carried the same pace in the next game, leading 8-6 at one point. “He is a very seasoned player but even I have been in a great run of form. These matches can generally slip out any time and at 8-6, I felt he was taking control away,” said Sharath, who played the last season of Ultimate Tennis Table with Chennai Lions. “But once I levelled (at 10-10), I fought to grab it.”
The paddler’s last title win was in 2010 at the Egypt Open. Since then, Sharath has made two semifinal appearances at Morocco Open in 2011 and India Open in 2017. “I am always here for business,” he laughed. “Many times I have had the opportunity in other tournaments and even today there were thoughts of not winning that came to my head. And even if I didn’t it’s all a part of sport.”
Sharath’s father Srinavasa Rao, who is also the paddler’s coach, insisted that they have not brought much change in his playing style. “We mostly worked on Sharath’s attitude and approach. He shed a bit of weight to stay fit for these tournaments. Rest is his own hunger to always wanting to play for India,” said the seasoned coach.
Despite the threat of the coronavirus, Indian paddlers travelled to Muscat, which will also be the last International Table Tennis Federation event for a while as the rest have been postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. “I had prepared a lot for this tournament and the others as well. So to let go of all the hard work is hard,” said Sharath.
Other paddlers from India had a good show too. World No. 86 Harmeet Desai lost in the semifinals to Freitas to end with a bronze. The paddlers will be self-quarantining themselves upon return.