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Sunday, July 15, 2018

CWG 2018: Manika Batra shows she is a ping-pong superstar

Manika Batra creates history by becoming first Indian woman table tennis player to win singles gold at Commonwealth Games.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Gold Coast | Updated: April 15, 2018 9:47:44 am
manika batra Manika Batra continued her dominance at the Commonwealth Games as she blanked Singapore’s Yu Mengyu 11-7, 11-6, 11-2, 11-7 in the final. (PTI Photo)

Paddlers often complain about the unpredictability generated by long-pimpled rubbers. Manika Batra, though, knew exactly how they would behave, and was quietly confident of the panic it would create in the Singapore camp. Ultimately, her plan reaped rich rewards. The Indian, ranked 58th in the world, proved her win against higher-ranked Singaporeans earlier this week wasn’t a fluke as she repeated the performance to win her second gold of the Games, and third overall. She also became the only Indian woman to clinch gold at the Commonwealth Games, and repeated the feat achieved by Sharath Kamal at the Melbourne Games in 2006 by winning the individual and team gold.

Batra dominated her higher-ranked opponent Mengyu Yu in the final, winning 11-7, 11-6, 11-2, 11-7. Earlier in the day, she had beaten world No. 4 Tianwei Feng for the second time in a week.

And it wasn’t a coincidence — instead, it was a well thought out strategy, that began with her equipment.

To combat the spin and speed of the Singaporean players, Batra resorted to using long-pimpled rubber, which allowed her to slow down play and focus on strategy. Hand skills became more important than movement and power while at the same time, frustrating the Singaporeans with the unpredictability of her shots.

“It gives great control against spin and gives a big change in pace compared to smooth rubbers,” Batra said. “It takes a lot of time to perfect it.”

The awkward returns and unpredictability in the amount of spin rattled the Singaporeans. They weren’t able to read her shots, with Yu missing some of her returns altogether. It was the same case during the team events as well.

Racquets, however, were just a part of her strategy. But they were an important ally in the overall picture. The backhand chops, which reduced the spin on the ball, allowed her to control the rallies. Consequently, in the semifinal earlier in the day, Feng targeted Batra’s forehand and managed to steal a few points.

She employed a similar strategy in the final, with Yu constantly going for Batra’s forehand to keep the rallies flowing. It worked initially, as she raced to a 6-2 lead but did not take long for the Indian to sort her opponent out. The moment she blocked a couple of forehands, Yu’s confidence took a beating and she did not have a Plan B to resort to.
The moment she won a point off her forehand, Batra turned to coach Massimo Constantini and smiled, realising their strategy was working perfectly.

“They’re afraid of her backhand chops that create interruptions of the rally and create the opportunity for Monika to counter-attack, to surprise opponent,” Constantini says. “Tianwei Feng won large number of points on Manika’s forehand. So in the final, we prepared to avoid that.”

It’s been an incredible week for Batra, who has won three medals in Gold Coast. Apart from the women’s team and individual gold, she won a silver medal in the women’s doubles with Mouma Das.

And she will have a chance to win a fourth medal, when she partners Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in the mixed doubles final against Kamal and Das.

Batra, who began playing aged four, took her first serious step in 2011 when she won a silver medal in the under-21 category of the Chile Open. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games four years ago, she managed only a quarterfinal finish but in the following year, she won three medals at the Commonwealth Championships, including a silver in the women’s team event and a bronze in the women’s singles. At the Rio Olympics, he suffered a first-round loss to Poland’s Katarzyna Grzybowska.

Constantini said they were expecting Batra to put up an improved show, but did not expect these many medals. “Batra had given a glimpse of her form last month, when she beat players ranked 24 and 25 in the world. But the little changes we made in the game has helped,” Constantini said.

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