Manika Batra’s steamrolling journey at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 was brought to a halt by Austria’s Sofia Polcanova in a third-round women’s singles match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Sunday. Sofia Polcanova won 4-0 (11-8, 11-2, 11-5, 11-7) against Batra.
Manika Batra started well and took the game to the opponent with some fiery forehand shots but Sofia Polcanova soon shifted gears to tackle Manika Batra’s strategy.
Sofia was good with her serve. Her deeply disguised serve rattled Manika Batra and side-spinning forehand smashes accentuated the Indian’s woes.
After winning the first game by staving off a stiff challenge, Sofia Polcanova shifted gears instantly and won the second game 11-2.
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Another worrying factor was how Sofia Polcanova sent body smashes. She was on top of the ball and unleashed powerful forehand smashes which was oozing with quality all over.
The variety never allowed Manika Batra to settle into a rhythm and although the Indian found glimpses of form with delicate placements and attacking shots, Sofia Polcanova had too much in her to overcome the Indian.
Manika never wanted to give up. She was constantly egging herself up and with the lack of a coach, it felt like she missed a trick by not having the services of a trainer to motivate and strategize Batra's game.
Could Manika Batra's coach have made a difference?
Manika Batra’s personal coach Samay Paranjpe was confined to one of those hotels where the coaches (who did not get the highest accredition) are staying. Samay Paranjpe did not get accreditation to be present at the venue or the Games Village for that matter.
After Manika Batra’s request to upgrade Samay Paranjpe’s accreditation was rejected by the organizers, the Indian player protested by not taking the services of national coach Soumyadeep Roy.
Former player and Olympian Neha Agarwal, who participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said it depends on player to player and they are used to not having coaches travel with them on tours frequently. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Neha Agarwal said:
“Having a coach does help to a great extent as there can be someone who would be motivating you and help you tactically. Having said that, we cannot have an ideal situation in sports always. As an elite athlete, this shouldn’t affect a player at all and this shouldn’t be playing on your mind.”
G Sathiyan’s coach S Raman, who did not travel to Tokyo for the Olympics, said feedback from a coach during matches does help a lot. He said:
“When we are there on the side lines, we can analyze the game in real-time along with checking the body language of the opponents, their game and giving feedback. But, when we are not there, it is just hard. You can tell the players anything during training, but, it is feedback during matches that is the most effective.”
Monalisa Baruah Mehta, who coaches the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board under which Manika Batra is employed, said although having a coach on the sideline does matter, it boils down to a player’s individual performance on a given day. She said:
“We must accept the fact that Sofia is a higher-ranked player and Manika Batra has lost to a better opponent. The coach is important but you cannot keep going to the coach for every point. The player has to be strong in these situations and Manika Batra is a strong player. She did come back from a 0-2 down on Sunday and won the game without a coach on the side line. Today (Monday) was just not her day and she lost to a superior player.”
It wasn't just Manika Batra who suffered as Indian shooter Divyansh Singh Panwar’s coach did not travel to Tokyo either. His coach Deepak Kumar Dubey, too, was not given permission to travel. Deepak Kumar Dubey said:
“I wish I was there. It would be easy to motivate him. But now all I can do is motivate him over the phone, ask him what he felt was wrong and accordingly help him. Had I been there, I would have done my own analysis and then asked his opinion on the performance and accordingly give a feedback.”
With Manika Batra’s loss, the Indian challenge in women’s singles came to an end. Earlier, on Monday, Portugal’s Fu Yu beat Sutirtha Mukherjee 4-0 (11-3, 11-3, 11-5, 11-5). Divyansh Singh Panwar did not qualify for the final of the 10m Air Rifle event.