The lone seat reserved in player’s corner for the coach — which in India’s case is national coach Soumyadeep Roy— has been empty during Batra’s two singles matches so far in Tokyo.

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By HT Correspondent, New Delhi

PUBLISHED ON JUL 25, 2021 09:34 PM IST

After dropping the first two games in merely 11 minutes of her second-round clash against world No. 32 Ukrainian Margaryta Pesotska, a pensive Manika Batra went to her corner at the changeover. She took a few deep breaths, often closing her eyes and talking to herself. She had nobody else to talk to.

The lone seat reserved in player’s corner for the coach — which in India’s case is national coach Soumyadeep Roy— has been empty during Batra’s two singles matches so far in Tokyo. The 26-year-old has her personal coach Sanmay Paranjape travelling along for the Games as an “extra official” without access to the Games Village or the competition arenas, and Batra’s wish to grant him courtside accreditation was shot down. So Batra decided to go solo during her singles matches, choosing to extract from her own problem-solving and self-motivating traits instead of using external assistance.

World No. 62 Batra needed every ounce of that on Sunday, overcoming a two-set deficit to stun her higher-ranked opponent 4-3 (4-11, 4-11, 11-7, 12-10, 8-11, 11-5, 11-7) to march into the third round, an improvement from her opening-round exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Batra, the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is known for using the pimpled rubber on her racquet to her advantage, but the experienced Pesotska was countering it without too much trouble in the first couple of games. With the odd glance at her coach Paranjape, who was watching and cheering on from the stands, Batra changed things up.

She began to vary the length of her shots with the pimpled anti-spin rubber, complementing it with some neat forehand winners. She also began to flip her racquet between the rallies, often flummoxing Pesotska with the change of pace from the pimpled to normal rubber.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Batra after the slippery start, though. The Indian had to wriggle herself out from deuce in the fourth game, and was again staring at the barrel at 2-5 down in the sixth game after squandering the fifth. After a time out where she paused to gather her thoughts — all by herself, again — Batra stitched together nine straight points to close out the key game and take the momentum into the decider.

The 26-year-old from Delhi will have to script another upset story in her third round encounter on Monday, when she takes on Austria’s Sofia Polcanova, ranked 17th in the world. She is likely to be all by herself again on court, looking inwards to problem-solve.