Sharath Kamal settled for a creditable sixth spot after going down against South Korean Kim Minseok in a thriller at the 28th Asian Cup table tennis tournament in Jaipur on Saturday.
The 49th-ranked Sharath lost the 5th-6th play-off match 11-8, 2-11, 17-15, 7-11, 11-9, 9-11, 10-12 but won many fans following his giant-killing run in the tournament where he beat three top-20 players. The Indian had also lost to 32nd-ranked Minseok to finish sixth in last year's edition in Wuhan, China.
With an impressive result here, he has boosted his chances of qualifying for the World Cup to be held later in the year.
Like the opening day, Sharath underwent a severe test of stamina and endurance in the three matches he played. Sharath disposed of world number 15 and nemesis Gao Ning 11-7, 4-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-5 to add to his giant-killing run in the premier continental competition.
With his first win over the Singaporean after 'countless losses', Sharath also put the disappointment of his quarterfinal defeat to world number five Jun Mizutani behind. The Indian was more relieved than happy to find success against Ning, who looked far from his best on Saturday.
"I have lost count of how many times Gao Ning beat me, but today I finally found a way to get past him. I was so fed up with this losing trend that once I had asked a German coach 'when will I beat Gao Ning?' His reply was that 'you keep it reserve for a special day'. Overall I think played really well and to be honest he looked a bit under prepared," said Sharath.
The two-time CWG gold winner romped home after winning the crucial fourth game to go 3-1 up. It was a commendable effort from the Chennai-born paddler a few hours after his comprehensive loss to Mizutani. By Sharath's own admission, he could not have played any better than he did against his superior Japanese opponent.
Mizutani kept attacking from both flanks to which Sharath did not have many answers. He foxed the Indian with a variety of serves and hammered winners, both cross court and down the line, with pinpoint precision.
Sharath got his only chance in the second game where he was leading 6-1 but a couple of unforced errors allowed the 25-year-old from Shizuoka to reduce the deficit. Eventually, Mizutani clinched the game on his second game point before racing to a 11-3, 14-12, 11-2, 11-6 win.
"I don't think I played badly, he was just too good for me. He did not allow me to play my game, which is forehand dominated. He showed me he is in a different league," said Sharath, who had beaten world number eight and number 16 to reach the quarter-finals on Friday.
With the Indian challenge ending in the competition, the crowd could now fully focus on the semi-finals contested among some of the best in the world.
World No 2 Xu Xin was stretched by Sharath's conqueror Mizutani before the Chinese prevailed 11-7, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-7. Xin meets compatriot Fan Zhendong in the final on Sunday. The 18-year-old sensation sailed past Tang Peng of Hong Kong 11-3, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.
Liu Shiwen of China and Feng Tianwei of Singapore will battle it out in the women's singles final.
Results: Men singles: Semi-finals: Xu Xin (Chn) bt Jun Mizutani (Jpn) 11-7, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-5; Fan Zhengdong (Chn) bt Tang Peng (Hkg) 11-3, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.
Quarterfinals: Xin bt Gao Ning (Sin) 11-7, 11-7, 11-7, 11-4; Mizutani bt Sharath Kamal 11-3, 14-12, 11-2, 11-6; Tang bt Koki Nawa (Jpn) 11-8, 8-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 12-10; Fan bt Kim Minseok (Kor) 11-3, 11-3, 11-3, 11-6.
Women singles: Semifinals: Liu Shiwen (Chn) bt Zhu Yuling (Chn) 11-6, 7-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 11-6; Feng Tianwei (Sin) bt Ai Fukuhara (Jpn) 10-12, 11-6, 11-4, 11-13, 8-11, 11-6, 11-7.
Quarterfinals: Liu bt Cheng I-Ching (Tpe) 11-4, 11-9, 11-3, 11-5; Zhu bt Kasumi Shikawa (Jpn) 11-4, 11-6, 11-3, 12-10; Fukuhara bt Seo Hyowon (Kor) 11-8, 11-8, 4-11, 11-3, 17-19, 11-5; Feng bt Doo Hoi Kem (Hkg) 7-11, 11-1, 11-7, 4-11, 11-5, 11-4.
Image: Achanta Sharath Kamal
Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images