The week that belonged to Manika, Saudi Smash 2024

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India’s hopes were high as they sent a formidable contingent to the second grand smash of the year, with 11 singles players and 3 pairs aiming for glory.

However, the qualifying rounds brought disappointment as none of the eight players made it to the main draw.

In the Round of 64, Sreeja Akula’s loss to a much lower-ranked Portuguese qualifier and Sharat’s defeat despite being 2-0 up and then possessing 3 match points against WR19 Quadri Aruna, added to the dismay.

Yet, amidst the setbacks, Monday (May 6) brought grand victories. Manika’s stunning victory against Wang Manyu in the Round of 32 marked a significant turnaround, especially after enduring five successive defeats against the formidable opponent.

Caption UTT

Her triumph not only showcased her resilience but also injected a renewed sense of hope and determination into the Indian contingent, while the scratch pair Harmeet-Yashaswini triumphed in a tantalizing against WR6 Robles-Xiao in R16.

Courtesy UTT

However, more disappointments followed the next day as Manav-Manush and the Mukherjees lost winnable matches and Harmeet-Yashaswini faltered without a fight against the world champions.
Nevertheless, Manika’s remarkable run stood out. She overturned a 0-3 head-to-head against Germany’s No.1 Nina Mittelham with a dominant straight games victory on Wednesday (May 8).

Her strategic prowess and unwavering focus not only secured a memorable win but also underscored her ability to perform under pressure on the global stage.
And she made us dream big when she took the first game against the highest ranked left-hander in the world.

After claiming a convincing victory in the first game, Manika went toe-to-toe with the highest-ranked left-hander, showcasing her agility and tactical finesse. Although the match culminated in defeat, Manika’s spirited display and competitive edge left a lasting impression, signaling her potential to challenge the best in the world and inspiring hope for future triumphs on the international stage.

Although the dream run of India’s golden girl ended due to some bad luck and some clever play from the opponent, it signified positivity for Indian table tennis. She is expected to achieve the best-ever singles ranking for an Indian player and will reclaim the India No.1 spot in women’s singles.

Despite setbacks, India had a decent campaign, with a singles player now reaching the quarterfinals of successive Smash events. The new mixed doubles pair of Harmeet-Yashaswini showed promise, inspiring confidence after the recent disappointment at Czechia less than a month ago.

Courtesy UTT

In an Olympic year, Manika’s success serves as a beacon of hope, signaling India’s potential as a dark horse in the global table tennis arena. With each challenge, Indian players grow stronger, pushing boundaries and striving for excellence. Manika’s performance reignites hopes for a deep singles run and strengthens India’s chances in the women’s team event at the upcoming Olympics.

As Manika rightly said, “I’m really happy that I worked hard kyuki ye ek din ki mehnat nhi hai, of course you have to keep working hard days, months, years. So yes bahut khush hu ki ye kaam aya”

Overall, Indian table tennis continues its progress, with women challenging top Chinese players, no less. The journey at the second Grand Smash of the year in Jeddah was indeed a rollercoaster ride, filled with highs and lows, but it underscores the resilience and determination of India’s table tennis contingent, as we look ahead to a bright future in the sport

Written by Mohit

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