The Batra mantra!

Manika Batra reflects on her golden journey in Gold Coast.

Manika Batra takes a break from practice.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

If it were a dream, I would have liked it to go on. I wouldn’t have liked to be woken up.

The Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast gave me something that I believed was possible. But there is always a difference in believing in your potential and realising it on the big stage. In these Games, a dream turned into reality, potential turned into timely performance and India, as a team, proved what self-belief was capable of changing. The results, I would like to believe, have done their bit to change a mindset for the better.

Personally, for me, four medals from four events is nothing short of a fairytale. To play my part in the historic team championship triumph and to follow it up in the singles is still to sink in.

READ: GeTTing all the aTTention

To add medals from the two doubles is like finding the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Let me begin from the point when we defeated England 3-0 in the team semifinals. I told my team-mates, let us not think too much about the final now. We’ll take rest.

Manika displays her medals.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Individually, we all had our minds thinking about the matches in the final. We stayed upbeat and believed that Singapore was beatable. I kept repeating that we could make history since no Indian women’s team had ever won the Commonwealth Games gold.

The biggest reason behind this optimism was the fact that all three of us — Mouma Di (Das), Madhurika (Patkar) and I — were in good shape and playing very well. The Mouma-Madhurika doubles combination was pulling off match after match after the defeat against Wales. That’s why I said in the meeting that it was important to win the doubles. I assured the team of giving my best in my two singles. Just before the final, our coach Max (Massimo Costantini) also boosted our confidence.

I was happy to face Feng Taiwei in the first singles since there was no pressure on me against the World No. 4. I kept telling myself that I was going to play each point as it comes and not get overawed by the status of my rival, much like I did in last year’s Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) League. Somehow, this mindset has worked for me from my early playing days.

Manika Batra beat world number four and triple Olympic medallist, Feng Tianwei of Singapore, twice in the CWG, in Gold Coast.   -  Getty Images

 

(On beating World No. 4 Feng Taiwei 11-8, 8-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-7 in the first singles)

Since I had not played her before, I watched her videos. There was no point in watching her play against an opponent who plays with normal rubbers. So, I watched the one where she played against a ‘defensive’ opponent and made some mental notes.

Once the match commenced, I realised she had changed her tactics. I had plans of exploiting what I thought was her weakness. Things worked my way and I won the first set and that reinforced my belief that I could beat her. But somehow in the next two sets, I could not play the big points better. Though I trailed 1-2, I believed I could turn things around. This is something I have done as a kid — believing that things can get better if I keep working hard.

I was thinking of what a start it would be for my team if I could win this match. I did trail in the fourth set but I somehow played unbelievably good.

Even I don’t know how I executed some of the shots to finish the points. In the final set, she started attacking my forehand but I was ready for it. I could feel that she was under pressure since she was expected to give Singapore a winning start. But in the closing stages, I played freely while she cracked.

(On beating Zhou Yihan 11-7, 11-4, 11-7 and completing India’s historic 3-1 triumph)

Before the match, it crossed my mind that I had lost 0-4 to Zhou in the last Commonwealth championship in Surat. But once in the match, I realised that she was under tremendous pressure of being in a must-win situation (to keep the tie alive for Singapore). Surprisingly, I kept winning the points rather easily. I could see that unlike in our last meeting, she was unable to read my backhand returns off my pimpled rubber. And I attacked more from the forehand. I succeeded in confusing her by varying the pace of my backhand returns. On match-point, suddenly I wondered how I would react if I won. But I got my focus back and we won. Obviously there were impromptu celebrations and we all were so happy. Once we returned to our room, I had one chocolate ice-cream that I had promised myself — one ice cream for every medal I won!