GOLD COAST India’s table tennis campaign at the Commonwealth Games established Manika Batra as not only the star to watch out for in India but in world stage. The 22-year-old from Delhi on Sunday won the mixed doubles bronze medal in the company of G Sathiyan, beating compatriots Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das in an all-India affair. That took her medals tally from Gold Coast to four -- two gold (team and women’s singles), one silver in women’s doubles and the mixed doubles bronze, making her the most successful table tennis player in the Games.On the final day of competition, India picked two bronze medals in mixed doubles and men’s singles, Achanta Sharath Kamal claiming it by beating Samuel Walker of England 11-7, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9, 12-10.
Her campaign has been historic and performances magical. Manika spearheaded the Indian challenge as they won the women’s team competition for the first time, beating Singapore’s World No 4 Tanwei Feng in the first singles. That win gave her Indian teammages the confidence that they can beat Singapore, the dominant force at Commonwealth Games. Manika came back to win another singles to clinch a 3-1 win for India in team competition.
But what caught the imagination of table tennis fans at Gold Coast was her brilliant win in the women’s singles final. Even her ardent fans would not have had imagined that the Indian ranked 58th in the world could have beaten Mengyu Yu, Singapore’s second highest ranked singles player again – that too in straight games.
By this time, the Singapore players would have figured out her tactics – to keep the racquet close to her body, switching sides to use the the long-pimpled rubber to counter the spin generated by the Singapore players and to use chop and block to upset their rhythm.
But it seems, they could not counter her tactics and her ability to execute the plan perfectly.
“The experience is amazing – I defeated the world number four Tianwei Feng twice in a week. I am feeling really happy and very proud for my country,” Manika said after her singles win.
Manika had devised this strategy to block on the backhand and counter from forehand with India’s chief coach Massimo Constantini. The Italian was really proud of her performance and said credited her hardwork and determination for her superb performance. “I like her dedication and hard work. She takes her game very seriously and is always ready to work on her game. She has amazed me with her performance here,” Constantini had said after India’s win in the team competition.
While the spotlight has been on young Manika, seasoned Sharath Kamal too had a successful campaign here as he won three medals, one gold, one silver and one bronze. Sharath, gold medallist in 2006 in Melbourne, guided India to the men’s team title, winning crucial matches in semis against Singapore and Nigeria in the final. The 35-year-old bagged bronze medal in men’s singles and with a little bit of luck, could have ended with another gold, in men’s doubles in the company of G Sathiyan. The top seeds lost to an English pair in the final 2-3.
Overall it was dominant run by India, which bagged three gold, two silver and three bronze medals to finish on top of the table.
However, now that the Commonwealth Games are over, the next challenge begins for Manika – to continue their success on the world stage and at the Asian level with players from China, Japan and South Korea in fray. With this success will come extra scrutiny – till now she has functioned under the media radar. Now the real game starts for Manika Batra.