Ace Indian paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal on Wednesday almost created history at the 19th Asian Table Tennis Championship in Lucknow, pushing World No 5 Wang Liqin of China to the wall before losing a hard-fought battle.
Though table tennis powerhouse Chinese tamed India 3-1, it was Sharath Kamal who won the hearts of everyone inside the UP Badminton Academy Hall with his skilful display on the blue-top table.
No one had expected such a terrific performance from Sharath Kamal, ranked 71st in the world, even after his win against unknown Chinese Wu Hao just a couple of hours ago in the quarterfinal stage of the Championship Division, which began on Wednesday.
He left everyone stunned, winning the first two games against the three-time world champion Wang Liqin 15-13, 11-8. Thereafter, the Chinese star took over and lived up to his ranking, although Sharath Kamal continued to pose a stiff challenge.
Liqin took an early 6-0 lead in the third game but Sharath Kamal forced himself back to take a one-point lead at 8-9. That was all for Sharath as Liqin then left the Indian stranded to take the game at 11-9 with a powerful forehand flick.
The disappointment did not dampen the spirit of the Indian in the fourth game and Sharath fought doggedly before losing 10-12. In the deciding game, Liqin took full control decimating India's No. 1 11-6.
"I lost a very close match to Liqin. With a 2-0 lead, I tried to keep up the pressure…I had a chance to beat the best player in the world, but some mistakes at crucial junctures shattered my dream," said Sharath Kamal.
Earlier, Wang Liqin outplayed Soumyadeep Roy in the first singles 11-6, 11-7, 11-9. Focus then shifted to Sharath's match against Chinese Wu Hao.
Despite losing the first and fourth games, Sharath played superbly to win the second, third and fifth to become the first Indian to beat a Chinese paddler in the continental championship in the last two decades.
In the semifinals China went on to defeat Hong Kong 3-1. In the women's section too, defending champions China outclassed Korea 3-0.