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Superstar Manika makes history, takes Indian TT to another level

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New Delhi, April 14: Manika Batra became the first ever Indian paddler to win the women singles gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast on Saturday. The 22-year-old, not only put up a dominating show in the final, but simply rattled her Singaporean opponent Mengyu Yu, the No. 3 seed, to add a second gold to her booty. Manika won 4-0 (11-7, 11-6, 11-2, 11-7). 

 

Earlier, she had guided India to a first ever gold medal in the Women’s Team event at the Games. Incidentally, Manika is only the second paddler from India after Sharath Kamal to win a singles medal at CWG!

 

Making her CWG debut, the No.4 seed Indian was in deep trouble, trailing 1-6 and then 3-7 in the opening game as Yu had  all answers to Manika’s blocking style of play—she uses long pimpled rubber—on the backhand as well her controlled attacking play on the forehand.

 

It seemed a Herculean task for Manika to stop the Singaporean. But the tall lass knew how to turn here negatives into positives. The Indian allowed just one more point to Yu and after that it was Manika all the way, going from strength to strength. In fact, Manika made Yu almost cry in the third game as nothing went right for the Singapore player.

 

“I feel very proud to have won and even more prouder to have won for India. My aim was to win a gold medal for the country and I could do it,” said Manika.  She also admitted that she had played the best ever table tennis at the Games. “I have never played better. In the first game I was down 1-6. I said to myself I can recover and win and I did,” she added. 

 

Manika did admit that her semi-final triumph against world No.4 Tianwei Feng was the tipping point. After having beaten her in team event—a crucial rubber win for India—Manika had her anxious moments against Feng in the semi-finals. The fourth and fifth games gave a distinct advantage to Feng as she led 3-2. 

 

However, Manika had not given up as she had the best gameplay for her opponent and matched Feng stroke for stroke to win the sixth at 11-9 and the decider 13-11.

 

After that marathon win, the final against Yu looked child’s play for Manika who, with her unpredictable spin she put on the ball and thinking game plan, clinched the gold.

 

The Delhi girl, who trains at Stag Academy at Hansraj Model School under her long-standing coach Sandeep Gupta, could well become the only Indian paddler to win medals in all events that she has participated at the Games. 

 

Apart from the two gold, she also pockted the women doubles silver, in the company of veteran Mouma Das. The world No. 58 is very much in line for a mixed medal as well!

 

England’s Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall held their nerve to win a gripping men doubles final as the English duo managed to come back from 1-2 deficit to beat a spirited Indian pair of A. Sharath and G. Sathiyan 11-5, 10-12, 9-11, 11-6, 11-8 to secure England’s first gold at the Games.

 

Just before that, the second Indian pair of Harmeet Desai and Sanil Shankar Shetty defeated the Singapore’s Koen Pang and Ethan Poh to claim the bronze.
India can hope to win yet another medal from ace paddler Sharath who will play the bronze medal playoff against England’s Samuel Walker. 

 

Whatever happens tomorrow, Gold Coast has already proved to be a goldmine for table Indian tennis with the paddlers winning their best CWG haul of three gold, two silvers and one bronze medals so far.

 

At New Delhi Games in 2010, India had their best haul of one gold, one silver and three bronze medals while just a silver came in men doubles at Glasgow in 2014.

 

One can’t ask for more from Indian table tennis!

 

By R. Ramachandran 

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