Table Tennis: Manika Batra becomes first Indian woman to reach Asian Cup semis
A day after beating the world no 7, the Indian star knocked out world no 23 Chen in the quarter-finals
Chinese No 5, Chinese Taipei No 1: Manika Batra has had a couple of giant-killing days in Bangkok.
The weapon: her attacking, flattening forehand play.
It was put to good use again by the Indian on Friday in her 4-3 (6-11, 11-6, 11-5, 11-7, 8-11, 9-11, 11-9) victory against world No 23 Chen Szu-Yu in the quarter-finals of the IITF-ATTU Asian Cup. Manika entered the contest with a spring in her step after taking down world No 7 Chen Xingtong of China in the Round of 16 a day earlier.
She now finds herself in the semi-final of the elite Asian individual event as the first Indian woman and only the second after Chetan Baboor (silver in 1997, bronze in 2000). On Saturday, Manika faces Japan's Mima Ito, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist ranked fifth in the world, and irrespective of the outcome will fight for a medal later in the day.
The other women’s last-four clash is between players ranked 4th and 6th. At world No 44, Manika is the odd one out but it reflects the damage she can inflict when she dishes out an aggressive game on the table to go with her unique rubber on the racquet.
Which has been on show over the last two days at the Asian Cup, and which was largely missing at the World Team Table Tennis Championships and Commonwealth Games (CWG) earlier this year. In the former, she was blown away by Chen 11-7, 11-9, 11-3 during the Indian team's ouster by Chinese Taipei. At the latter, she was stretched to five games by a Malaysian player ranked outside 500 in an overall lackluster outing.
What’s changed? “Those flatter forehand smashes—what we call flat kills,” said S Raman, who was coach of the Indian contingent at both the CWG and team worlds.
“After the World Championships, we had a chat and I suggested to her that she should go for balls that come higher than her waist—smash them rather than use the top spin. That has always been her strength, being so tall. She lately would roll or top spin them and keep the ball in play. I told her to go flat with the forehand and take it early.”
Those attacking forehands pierced through Chen, against whom Manika had a 1-4 win-loss record, on Friday. After losing an error-littered opening game, Manika got them going—especially while stepping around the ball—in the second where she opened up a 5-2 lead and sprinkled her solid block and attack game with a couple of unreturned serves. She equally bossed the third game, jumping around with “C’mons” and firing away those forehands.
Chen began slowing down the rallies but Manika continued to sail away, pocketing the fourth game despite losing some late points. Chen’s change of pace though did have an impact; the Chinese Taipei was in the lead in the fifth game for the first time since the opening game. As Chen found her striking rhythm to add to Manika’s string of errors, the world No 23 managed to take the seemingly smooth victory for the Indian into the decider.
That’s where Manika brought her forehand A game out again. None more so than in the rally of the match that put the Indian up 4-2. As Chen kept sending back high, loopy balls from way behind the table, Manika kept responding in kind, one forehand after another until it went past Chen’s reach. Chen then won four straight points before Manika pulled it back at 7-7. A crucial unreturned serve for 9-8 and one match point later, Manika crossed the line at second crack.
“Somewhere she lost the plot in trying to play the traditional method of staying in the rally, which these top players are so good at anyway. It’s good she has brought her attacking forehand side back, and t is paying dividends,” Raman said.This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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