Forlorn Manika Batra’s Tokyo Olympics ends in tears
- “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it,” Manika Batra said when asked about playing without a coach on the table. Tears rolled down. “I think I was nervous today. I was thinking about winning. I gave my best. Can we talk later?” She left in a huff.
Manika Batra’s voice choked as she came out of her match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Her Olympics run was over after losing to Austria’s world No. 17 Sofia Polcanova. What made her journey intriguing was that she was playing without a coach on her corner in her singles matches. There was nobody to advise her in a crucial match and it looked bizarre. Her personal coach Sanmay Pranjape had no access to the field of play and Batra had refused national coach Soumyadeep Roy’s presence by her side on the first day itself.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it,” Batra said when asked about playing without a coach on the table. Tears rolled down. “I think I was nervous today. I was thinking about winning. I gave my best. Can we talk later?” She left in a huff.
It was not the right moment to grill her further. She needed her space and time. The manner of loss to Polcanova in the third round would hurt her. It was over swiftly, in straight games and 27 minutes—11-8, 11-2, 11-5, 11-7. It was apparent that Batra was struggling for rhythm and composure. She has the game to put up a better fight but the issue of her coach not being there was occupying her mind from the start of the Games. She came out with two good wins in two days, rallying from two games down to beat higher-ranked Margaryta Pesotska of Ukraine, after a first round win over Tin-Tin Ho of Great Britain.
On both occasions she battled alone, even calling ‘time out’ herself. Her coach Sanmay Paranjape is in Tokyo, but is accredited under P (personal) category. He stays outside the Games Village. He can attend Batra’s training, and come to the venue but was not allowed in the “field of play”. Indian contingent officials tried to get him an access card, but it was refused by the organisers. Paranjape was in the stands for the game against Pesotska. Strong Covid protocol measures are in place with support staff drastically reduced at these Games.
That she badly missed a coach in her corner on an important day was apparent. Batra was never in the match. Frustration crept in as errors multiplied by the third game. Left-handed Polcanova was playing fluently, and her change of pace rattled Batra. She was unable to slow down the game, which she does brilliantly to set up points, by controlling her opponent’s spin with the pimpled side of her racquet.
Not on Monday. Batra was unable to find her range. She was annoyed, throwing up her hands in despair as easy forehand shots sailed long. She needed to block those negative thoughts and focus on the present. Someone who could have calmed her down could have helped her snap out of the frustration, recalibrate. She did it impressively in her first two matches, even against world No 32 Pesotska, rallying from two games down to seal a thrilling win.
She tried to switch her thoughts against Polcanova. During a break, the Commonwealth Games champion buried her face in a towel for a long time. But that comeback was not to happen. There was not a single table where a coach was not guiding the players, except in Batra’s case. Polcanova’s coach would let out a roar for every winner and placement, piling on the pressure on Batra. It was a big day for Polcanova, who was in crutches in May last year after a hip surgery.
Table Tennis Federation of India president MP Singh spoke to Batra to let national coach Roy, a former international, sit in her corner. “We cannot have personal coaches for every athlete. Then everyone will ask for their personal coaches. I spoke to Manika and asked her to have Roy, but she did not want that,” he said.
In men’s singles, Sharath Kamal ousted Tiago Apolonia of Portugal 4-2 in a six-game thriller in the second round. He runs into Chinese Olympic champion Ma Long.