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How Manika Batra turned out to be a giant-killer this year

How Manika Batra turned out to be a giant-killer this year

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Published: 15 April 2018 11:31 AM GMT
Manika Batra finished her Commonwealth Games campaign with four medals after she and her partner Sathiyan Gnanasekaran defeated Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das in the mixed doubles bronze medal match. On Saturday, India's top-ranked female paddler had beaten Singapore's Mengyu Yu to become the first Indian woman to win gold in women's singles table tennis in the history of Commonwealth Games. Earlier, she had teamed up with Mouma Das with win silver in the women's doubles event. A week earlier, Manika Batra had played a key role when India won their first-ever table tennis gold in the team event. Batra had once rued that table tennis has never had much of a following in India and for the game to become popular across the country, they will have to start winning medals. Things have changed now, the Indian table tennis contingent has kept the flag flying high at Gold Coast this year and Batra herself has played a key role in it. The 22-year-old, who is currently ranked 58 in the world, has pulled off huge upsets in CWG this year, which includes her overhauling world No. 4 Tianwei Feng in the team final and dominating Yu to win 11-7, 11-6, 11-2 and 11-7. Batra's story is one of monumental rise since she won a silver medal in the under 21-category of Chile Open in 2011.
She had crashed out of the 2014 CWG at the quarterfinal stage but since then, she has been punching above her weight to pull off major surprises.
Leading up to Batra's moment of glory at Gold Coast, she pulled off two major upsets by defeating two players ranked within 50 at ITTF events this year. In the World Tour, Qatar Open at Doha earlier this year, Batra stunned Canada's Zhang Mo ' who was ranked 25 back then ' by defeating her in a hard-fought seven-games contest. She also defeated the then world no. 24 Shibata Saki of Japan in 2018 ITTF Challenge, Polish Open in March this year. Even in the Ultimate Table Tennis league which began last year, though the Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas did not do well eventually, Batra had her moments. At Ultimate Table Tennis,
Batra beat the Rio Olympics bronze medallist Kim Song-I of North Korea by 2-1
, taking the first two sets by an 11-9 margin. She continued on her giant-killing ways in the tournament when she defeated the then world No. 45 Sabina Winter of the RP-SG Mavericks. Winter till then had not lost a single game to an Indian opponent in UTT that year. Just before that, she teamed up with Nigerian Aruna Quadri to defeat Sharath Kamal and Sofia Polcanova in the mixed doubles match.

In Gold Coast, Batra has done enough to live up to the tag of being a giant-killer.

Singapore's Tianwei Feng, who is world no. 4 and the top seed for the tournament, was sent packing 12-10, 5-11, 11-8, 5-11, 5-11, 11-9, 13-11 in the women's singles semifinal. And it was Batra defeating Feng that paved the way for the women's team to win gold this year. Until this year, Singapore had gone on to win gold in every women's team gold since table tennis was included in CWG in 2002.
Even former national champion and veteran paddler Kamlesh Mehta, who has been associated with UTT, also expressed his surprise over the victory.

'In the women's (match) we knew we will be among the medals, but winning over Singapore is not something we (expected). It was a fantastic achievement with Singapore being a strong team,' he told PTI.

In the history of CWG, this is the first time that India won four medals in table tennis and Batra had a key role to play in it. She has now become the first Indian woman paddler to win a CWG gold in a singles event. She is also, incidentally, the first non-Chinese born player to achieve this feat.
Also, this is not the first time she has bagged at least three medals in a single event, having done it twice already in the Commonwealth table tennis in 2015 and Asian Games 2016. Also last year, Batra along with her senior partner Mouma Das became the first Indians to reach the women's doubles quarterfinals at the world championships in 61 years. This is the first time Singapore has lost their singles crown, thanks to Batra's brilliant skill and imaginative strategy. To slow down the play, Manika Batra countered the high spin and speed of the Singaporean players by using the long-pimpled rubber. 'It gives great control against spin and gives a big change in pace compared to smooth rubbers. It takes a lot of time to perfect it,' she was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

'They're afraid of her backhand chops that create interruptions of the rally and create the opportunity for Manika to counter-attack, to surprise opponent,' coach Massimo Constantini said.

And all the while, Batra was turning to her coach and smiling. Their strategy was working. She was punching well above her weight. She was winning.
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