Tokyo : India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal reached the third round of the men’s singles table tennis competition, fighting back from a game down to beat Tiago Apolonia of Portugal 4-2 in 49 minutes at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.The 39-year-old Kamal, who had a bye in the first round, started off slowly as the Portuguese player raced away with the first game. Sharath got into his rhythm in the second game and went on to win 2-11, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9 in a well-fought encounter.The Indian, playing in his fourth Olympics, runs into reigning Olympic and world champion Ma Long of China, the top seed, in the third round.Kamal, who made his Olympics debut at Athens in2004 and reached the second round, found Apolonia’s serve difficult to handle in the first game. The Portuguese jumped to a nine-point lead and won the game 11-2.The paddler from Chennai found his rhythm in the second game and unleashed his trademark forehand attack as he won it 11-8. The Indian, who partnered Manika Batra in the mixed doubles but lost in the first round, continued with the momentum in the third, taking a seven-point lead before closing it out 11-5 to take a 2-1 lead.
In the closely-fought fourth game, scores went neck and neck before Kamal netted a forehand to lose 9-11. He recovered well to win the next two games, the fifth using his deceptive forehand shots to win it 11-6 and take a 3-2 lead.The sixth game was also closely fought as Apolonia made strong attempts to win and take it to the decider. However, Kamal kept his nerve, repelling his opponent’s attacks as he overcame an early deficit to win the game 11-9 and advance to the next round.Kamal won 30 points on his serve as against 27 by his Portuguese opponent. He lost only 23 points on serve as against 25 by the 34-year-old Apolonia.It was a good win for Kamal, who won the Oman Open last year just before all sports activities were brought to a standstill by the Covid-19 pandemic.Kamal prepared well for the Asian Olympic Qualifying event despite being confined to his home in Chennai during the nationwide lockdown. And the results are there to see as he registered a crucial win to reach the third round at the Olympics for the first time.He had lost in the second round in both Athens and Beijing. He did not play in the London Olympics and had lost in the first round in Rio de Janeiro.