A mix of plenty of pluck and loads of luck saw Manika Batra regain the National table tennis title she won in January 2016.
A firm favourite, Manika appeared vulnerable against her Indian Oil colleague and first-time finalist Reeth Rishya after losing the first two games. But what followed was Manika’s dramatic resurrection that saw her almost sprint on the home-stretch of a 8-11, 10-12, 11-1, 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 triumph in 44 minutes, at the nearby Panchkula.
As the scoreline indicates, Manika’s comeback began with a one-sided third game but how she pulled off the key fourth game dictated the course of the final.
Down 3-9 and just two points away from trailing 1-3 in the match, Manika reeled off eight points on the trot to leave Reeth shell shocked. During Manika’s eight-point streak, Reeth took a ‘time-out’ but it did not break the former’s rhythm.
The rest of the match followed a predictable course. Manika simply kept the ball in play, mainly with her consistent backhand blocks and pushes. Reeth, clearly battling a serious bout of confidence-deficit, just could not get her act right in the fifth and sixth games.
On several occasions, the ball struck the net-chord and fell favourably for Manika. This added to the exasperation of Reeth who seemed to have given up much before the final point.
Reeth, clearly robbed of her self-belief following the loss of the fourth game, managed to win only 11 points in the remaining two games. Manika was duly rewarded for her consistent returns that let Reeth slip to her doom.
Besides the winner’s trophy, Manika received Rs. 1.65 lakh. Reeth collected Rs. 82,500. Interestingly, Manika’s previous domestic title also came at the expense of Reeth in the 2019 Inter-Institutional championship where she bounced back from 1-3 to emerge the winner.
Earlier in the morning, the two finalists posted 4-1 victories for a place in the title-clash. Manika, barring a brief phase where she dropped a close second game and squandered two game-points in the marathon fourth game, was in control against young fourth seed Sreeja Akula.
Reeth made her maiden National final by stopping the all attacking Takeme Sarkar after winning the last three games.
The results (prefix denotes seeding):
Women singles (final): 1-Manika Batra (Pet) bt 15-Reeth Rishya (Pet) 8-11, 10-12, 11-1, 11-9, 11-5, 11-6; (Semifinals): Manika bt 4-Sreeja Akula (RBI) 11-4, 10-12, 16-14, 11-8, 11-5; Reeth bt 11-Takeme Sarkar (Rlys) 11-8, 4-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-3.