Sharath Kamal. Medals. A love story made at the Commonwealth Games.
The Indian table tennis icon won the men's singles crown at the 2022 CWG with a rousing 11-13, 11-7, 11-2, 11-6, 11-8 win over England's Liam Pitchford.
Sharath, fresh off his mixed doubles title with Sreeja Akula yesterday, began the game on an attacking note [as he always does] and played out from the back of the board. He settled into a rhythm and had an opportunity to close out the opening game at 10-9, but Pitchford came to the fore to equalise at 11-11. The Englishman held fort to pocket the opener 11-9.
The duo were tied at 3-3 in the second game and Sharath took the lead with a thunderous forehand down the line. He played his angles to perfection to beat Pitchford, who boasts sublime reach. Sharath seized the mantle to lead 8-6 and sealed the game with three game points on offer as Pitchford's forehand sailed wide.
The 40-year-old Indian retained momentum to race away to a 3-0 lead and followed it up with a sublime backhand winner. Sharath was feeling it: the crowd was backing him, and he looked unplayable.
Sharath's serves were on point and his returns were even better as he clinched the game in quick time with a superb forehand cross-table winner. He had completely dominated the game, offering Pitchford absolutely no room to settle in.
The Indian spun his way to the fourth game, literally. Forehands, backhands, serves - they all spun either away or into Pitchford as the Englishman struggled to cope. Sharath had a 5-1 lead and Pitchford showed signs of a comeback with a series of fantastic strokes, the best being a forehand cross-court loaded with side spin, but Sharath was having none of it.
He forced Pitchford into making two successive errors to win the game 11-6 and take a comfortable 3-1 overall lead.
Sharath played the short game: quick, short rallies, to win points at will and played a stunning backhand deep into the court to lead 4-1 in the fifth game. Pitchford was well and truly running out of options at this point and Sharath sent two forehands straight at the Englishman's body to extend his lead. The Indian turned to the Indian contingent in the stands to soak in the applause. He could smell victory. A second CWG singles gold medal was within touching distance.
Pitchford, somehow, seemed to have found a purple patch as he countered Sharath's short game and forced him into playing longer rallies. He recovered well to trail 7-8, but it was too little too late.
Another sublime forehand from Sharath earned him two championship points. He won the following championship point with an inside-out forehand, but Pitchford appealed the point and wanted to check if the ball touched Sharath's jersey before he played it. The referee decided to replay the point, but the outcome did not change: Sharath had won his fourth medal of the 2022 Games.