Ultimate Table Tennis 2017: Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas' Manika Batra impresses but Dabang Smashers edge tie
India’s Manika Batra proved that women’s table tennis in India can match and even better the performance of their men’s counterparts as she beat Rio Olympics bronze medallist Kim Song-I.
India’s Manika Batra proved that women’s table tennis in India can match and even better the performance of their men’s counterparts. Representing the Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas in the Ultimate Table Tennis league, Manika beat Rio Olympics bronze medallist Kim Song-I of North Korea by 2-1.
In what was a nerve-wracking encounter, the Dabang Smashers beat the Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas on the last point of the day, winning 14-13. This was a do-or-die type situation for the Yoddhas as they had to win to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Indeed, each and every Yoddha put in a lion-hearted performance as they took the match till the last point where Polina Mikahilova lost the last game 9-11 to Kim Song-I of the Smashers. Tomislav Pucar disappointed a bit as he lost both his matches for the day while the energetic Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong lost to Tetyana Bilenko.
But the day surely belonged to Manika. The Delhi paddler, playing in front of her home crowd and family members, displayed great patience and attitude to beat Kim. Both the players had contrasting styles of play with Kim being a defensive player but with a powerful forehand while Manika has long-pimpled rubber on her backhand, which provides her great control.
Manika was very patient on Kim’s chops as she varied the lengths with her long-pimpled rubber. Whenever she pushed her back and then dragged her front, Manika played the ball very short which enabled her to attack on the next ball. Manika’s blocking against Kim’s top spin was also top draw as her opponent was not able to attack on the next ball quite often.
Manika won the first two games — coming back in both games — to win 11-9, 11-9 and looked determined to win the last one but Kim was strong in her third game to make it 2-1 for Manika.
Sathiyan Gnansekaran continued his fine form in this tournament by winning another rubber for the Dabang Smashers as he got past Pucar of the Yoddhas by a score of 2-1. Sathiyan has now got an enviable record of not losing a single match in the entire tournament in the singles format. He has beaten all the four foreign players he has played against beating the likes of Wong Chun Ting, Par Gerell, Stefan Fegerl and now Pucar — all players ranked much higher than him.
Sathiyan’s close to the table and quick counter-attacking game was too hot to handle for Pucar as he was swept aside in the first two games. The Croatian did manage to get a point back for the Yoddhas but this was definitely not the start the team would have wanted.
After Dabang Smashers captain Marcos Freitas and later Doo Hoi Kem for the Yoddhas put in dominating performance against India’s Jubin Kumar and Madhurika Patkar, the tie was placed at 11-10 for the Smashers.
It looked as though Smashers would run away with it as Freitas and Kim were to play the last two matches for the Smashers. However, the Yoddhas put in every ounce of their energy as Quadri Aruna of Nigeria beat Freitas in what was the most entertaining match of the night. Both Quadri and Freitas put in a blistering performance as each ball was played with immense intensity.
Quadri converted his forehand top spins with great power as he stepped all around the table to make his forehands. Freitas was under tremendous pressure to keep the ball short or on the backhand of Quadri. Anything slightly long or with height was dealt with a severe blow by Quadri.
Quadri took the first game and looked to be in ominous form. But Freitas, the fighter that he is, came back in the second game taking more risk and creating more angles so that Quadri would have difficulties playing his thunderous forehand. He also played nearer to the table, giving Quadri less time to play his strokes. Freitas won the second game.
In the third, it was a close contest with both players making amazing strokes. The game went to a golden point with Freitas to serve. Freitas missed his short serve by an inch as the ball went slightly long. But that was enough for Quadri as another glorious forehand winner followed.
With the score at 12-12, Kim entered the arena and blew apart Poilna Mikhailova in the first game. What transpired next was incredible as Poilna hit a slew of stunning backhand winners to Kim's defence. She hit each of her backhand stroke with so much power that Kim was aghast. The game went very close but Song prevailed on the last point of the day winning 11-9 and taking her team through.
This concludes the league matches for the Dabang Smashers and Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas. While the Yoddhas appear to be heading out barring a miracle, the Smashers look comfortably in place to qualify within the top four.
For the Smashers, their combinations look very much in place with Sathiyan and Madhurika putting in consistent performances on the Indian front. Captain Freitas and Kou Lei form a formidable men’s contingent while Kim and Bilenko are also playing very well. They will be the team to beat as we head into the semi-final stage of the Ultimate Table Tennis league.
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