Archana Kamath has amassed a large number of titles over the years but Wednesday’s triumph in the Senior National women’s table tennis championships is her favourite. “This win is really special compared to all the previous ones,” she said on her return home from Cuttack. “I always wanted to belong to the senior arena. I always wanted to win this.”
Archana has been competing on the Senior women's circuit since 2013, but the furthest she had gone in the National championships all this time was the quarterfinals two years ago, when she lost to Poulomi Ghatak.
When she came up against Manika Batra, the reigning Commonwealth Games women's champion, in the semifinals this week, it seemed like a hurdle too tall to clear. But Archana was unfazed, as she galloped to a 4-1 victory.
“I was just happy to have got a chance to play against her,” she said. “It had been a really long time. I enjoyed myself. She's a legend but once I started playing it felt like any other match."
Playing Manika, who uses the pimpled rubber, was not an easy task, Archana stated. “She’s a very intelligent player. She has lots of variations. It’s important to be patient. When I play against the pimpled rubber, my spin comes back to me. But then she changes her grip and hits with the normal side suddenly. That makes it hard. She has great control.”
Archana’s campaign was nearly derailed in the third round when she found herself 0-3 down to Telangana’s Raaga Niveditha Balusuri before rallying back to win 4-3. Her pre-match routine was affected because she arrived late at her table, having waited at the wrong one. “I was supposed to be at table 16; but I read it as 6,” she revealed.
The Bengaluru girl now represents PSPB but Archana’s success makes her the first women’s National champion produced by the State since Usha Sunderraj 51 years ago.
The latter, now in her seventies, won the last of her five titles in Jabalpur in 1968. “I was hoping someone would come along; it’s been such a long time,” she said. “She may not represent Karnataka now but she is from here. I’m really happy.”
Her trip to Jabalpur had not been a straightforward one, Usha recalled. “I arrived on the morning of the tournament, having travelled in an unreserved compartment. My luggage was in one place and I elsewhere. We used to have to sit next to the toilets. We even paid the train fare out of our own pockets those days,” she said.
Archana’s coach, A. Sagayaraj, never doubted his ward’s potential. “She has matured a lot as a player,” he said. “She had the game. I expected her to win.”