Birmingham, July 29: The Indian women’s table tennis team started its defence of the title it won four years ago at Gold Coast by outplaying South Africa 3-0 in a Group 2 preliminary round match at Hall 3 at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Solihull, here on Friday.
The team spearheaded by star paddler Manika Batra did not have to break a sweat as it handed South Africa a comprehensive defeat. Manika won her singles match in straight games against Musfiquh Kalam, Reeth Tennison and Sreeja Akula won the doubles while Sreeja Akula overcame Danisha Patel for a comprehensive 3-0 win for the favourites.
Reeth and Sreeja set the ball rolling for India as they defeated the South African pair of Laitaa Edwards and Danisha Jayavant Patel 11-7, 11-7, 11-5. Reeth and Sreeja took an early lead in each of the three games in the best of five games match and did not allow their lower-ranked opponents many chances.
Manika Batra was at the table for the first singles game and thoroughly outplayed her opponent, Musfiquh Kalam, allowing her to win only 10 points combined in the three games, romping to an 11-5, 11-3, 11-2 win in double quick time.
Sreeja took to the table for the second single and defeated Danisha Patel 3-0 (11-5, 11-3, 11-6) to seal victory for India in the best-of-five match in Group 2 in which Guyana and Fiji are India’s other opponents besides South Africa.
Though their opponents were not so strong, Manika Batra said they went in strong as they wanted to get their rhythm going early.
“It was not too tough, we went in as if to play our best to prepare for the next round,” said Manika after the match.
The highest-seeded Indian woman player is the star attraction of the table tennis competition after bagging gold in team and women’s singles competition at Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. However, Manika said she did not feel any pressure of the heightened expectations following her Gold Coast heroics.
“I always go into a tournament thinking that is a new tournament and whatever happened in the previous one has no bearing on this. Pressure will always be there, after all, I am a player. But I try to look ahead and keep my focus,” said Manika after the match.
She said they have a young team as the others are playing in their first Commonwealth Games and she tries to talk to them and share her experiences so that they can learn from that.