by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
It was for Omar Assar, his third success in the tournament and thus he maintained his unbeaten record at open international tournaments in Nigeria. Since the tournament joined the ITTF World Tour in 2014; in Lagos, he has never lost a Men’s Singles match.
In the inaugural year he beat colleague, El-Sayed Lashin in the title decider; one year later in 2015, he secured the top prize at the final expense of the host nation’s Quadri Aruna.
Unfortunately in 2016, owing to commitments in the French League, he did not play but the title very nearly stayed within the family; younger brother Khalid was beaten by Finland’s Benedek Olah in the final.
Furthermore, the success means that Omar Assar remains the only Egyptian and only African to win a Men’s Singles title on either the ITTF World Tour or ITTF World Series; also there has been only one other occasion when an African has reached such a final. In 2012, on home turf in Cairo, Ahmed Ali Saleh was beaten by Russia’s Vasiliy Lakeev.Meanwhile, for Sarthak Gandhi reaching the final was quite an incredible achievement.
In 1980 England’s John Hilton won the Men’s Singles title at the European Championships at odds of over 1,000-1. I wonder what odds the bookmaker would have given Sarthak Gandhi on reaching the final in Lagos? Maybe not the same as the man from Manchester, who celebrated his 70th birthday two months ago, but pretty close!
Defeat in the final but by reaching the final Sarthak Gandhi maintained Indian traditions at this year’s ITTF Challenge Series tournaments. Some three months ago in South America, Soumyajit Ghosh beat Amalraj Anthony in an all Indian Men’s Singles final in Chile, before the following week in Brazil Amalraj Anthony once again reached the final, only to be overpowered by the host nation’s Hugo Calderano.
The achievements gained this year by Indian players means five players from the country have now reached either an ITTF World Tour or ITTF Challenge Series Men’s Singles final. Additional to Amalraj Anthony, Sarthak Gandhi and Soumyajit Ghosh; Sharath Kamal Achanta was the runner up on home turf in New Delhi in 2007, the winner in Egypt in 2010; Sathiyan Gnanasekaran won last year in Belgium.
Sarthak Gandhi is now a member of an illustrious group but notably this year he did not play in India’s Ultimate Table Tennis. Maybe an invitation for 2018 awaits?