Table Tennis
Manika Batra

An unexpected phone call hastened Manika Batra's arrival to Dharwad on the eve of the South Zone National Ranking Table Tennis Championships. The telephonic message from her coach Sandeep Gupta was loud and clear: She was required to play the qualifiers on the opening day!

It must have come as a rude shock to the 22-year-old Manika, but the circumstances decided her fate just a day before the open draw was conducted. Ranked joint seventh along with Archana Kamath and Poulami Ghatak, with just two slots at seven and eight up for grabs, Manika was tossed out. In other words, Manika was playing the qualifiers, without the usual luxury of a direct entry into the main draw.

It did come as a blow to the former national champion. She and her mother packed quickly and had their tickets to Dharwad rebooked even as they left for the airport to catch the first available flight to Goa so that they could drive down to the venue in time.

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Drawn in Group 1, she began shakily with a cluttered mind, but surely marched ahead posting two wins to enter the main draw. From there, she gained in strength, grew in confidence and never looked back.

"I was a bit disappointed but in hindsight I have had very good preparations for the Asian Cup beginning next week," said a satisfied Manika after winning the women's singles crown in Dharwad on Sunday (September 10).

In fact, Manika raised the bar in the semi-final against reigning national champion Madhurika Patkar and former Institutional title holder Suthirta Mukherjee in the final.

Playing with odd rubbers, it is considered difficult to have a complete control over the ball. But Manika pooh-poohed this belief to outsmart Madhurika and Suthirta.

Manika's blocks of both fore and backhands came off nicely and she gave fewer negatives against the two opponents. She exploited the weaknesses of Madhurika and Suthirta, attacked on both flanks, which included some astonishing down-the-line shots and excellent presence of mind.

"I must say I have improved. My blocks are coming good and the percentage of winners on forehand has become regular. More importantly, I'm hitting well. I am upbeat about the Asian Cup at Ahmedabad and ready to give my best shot. My aim is to reach the quarter-finals. I will think about the first match and then take the call," said the Petroleum paddler, who won 11-4, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11, 11-7 against Suthirta in the final.

The 30th Table Tennis Asian Cup 2017 will be held in Ahmedabad from September 15 to 17 at The Arena by TransStadia.