It was a historical moment for India on Day 3 of the Tokyo Paralympic Games after para table tennis player Bhavina Patel moved into the semifinals on Friday and confirmed a medal for the country. She became the first-ever table tennis player to do so. Incidentally, Bhavina also became Gujarat's first-ever sportsperson to win a medal at the Paralympics or Olympic Games.
The name, which wasn't even popular two days ago, has now become a figure to trend on social media channels. Bhavina pulled off a stellar show today after defeating the reigning Olympic Champion from Serbia Borislava Peric in straight games of 11-5, 11-6, 11-7 in just 18 minutes of the quarterfinals to assure India of a medal.
Buoyed by her mentee's success, Bhavina's long-time coach Lalan Doshi seems to fall short of words to describe to big is the achievement. Speaking to The Bridge
, in an exclusive conversation, Doshi said, "I don't have enough words to describe how big an achievement this is.
Becoming the country's first para table tennis player to reach the semifinal stages of the Paralympics, that too on her debut Games against the top players of the world - this is a historic achievement."
A former World No. 2 paddler, Bhavina had secured a berth for the 2016 Rio Paralympics but was, sadly, unable to compete.
Having represented her country in 28 international tournaments that comprise the World Championships as well, Bhavina is a well-decorated paddler boasting of a rich collection of medals - 5 gold, 13 silver, 8 bronze.
Doshi has trained Bhavina for the last 13 years since 2008. "This is an effort of over 13 years since she has been training with me. She has trained for eight hours every day," the seasoned coach sounded proud about his student.
Though Bhavina lost her first match in the tournament in straight games against China's Zhou Ying in straight games of 0-3, since then, she gained back her composure and showcased a terrific comeback.
She went on to defeat Megan Shackleton of Great Britain in her second group-stage match, followed by a 3-0 win against Brazil's Oliveira de Joyce in the Round of 16 and then again a 3-0 win over the Serbian today.
"Bhavina has always seen ups and downs and huddles in every stage of competitions she faced, but I know the indomitable fighter within her. That is why I was confident she would pull off a comeback.Whenever we faced any setback, we worked on every basic element, and she would come back stronger. In the last couple of years, we have worked on her reflex, mental coordination, physio, food habit, rest cycle, the body clock, and every other aspect so that she could perform in pressurising situations like these. And you can see the results today," says Doshi.
Bhavina picked up table tennis and was groomed by Doshi from a young age. Doshi, a former national-level paddler, has been associated with India's table tennis players at the Tokyo Paralympics from the grassroots level.
The mentee trusts her coach in whichever decisions he makes for her. "I have to credit Bhavina's immense dedication and perseverance in the sport, which she had from the very beginning. Even if you call her to train at 5 AM just before her departure for a tournament, she will turn up," says Doshi.
Interestingly, Bhavina called up Doshi in Ahmedabad from Tokyo immediately after she won her quarterfinals today, and it was a flurry of emotional exchange between the two.
"Bhavina broke out into tears when she called me up. It was tears of happiness of doing something, which no one ever did," says Doshi. He concludes, "However, she still has bigger dreams in her mind, and I just told her not to settle and gear up for her semis with all her vigour."