Manika Batra became the first Indian paddler to win a medal in the ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup after shocking world number six Hina Hayata of Japan in the bronze play-off on Saturday.
The world number 44 defeated Hayata 4-2 (11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 12-10, 4-11, 11-2) to achieve the incredible feat. Besides the historic bronze, Manika will also carry home USD 10,000 for her efforts.
"This win is a huge one for me, defeating the top players. I enjoyed playing and fighting well against them to achieve a fantastic result. I will continue putting the extra yard in all my future tournaments. I expect all of you to extend your full support," said an emotional Manika.
Earlier in the day, Manika lost 2-4 (8-11, 11-7, 7-11, 6-11, 11-8, 7-11) to the second-seeded Mima Ito in the semifinals.
Despite Ito beginning shakily, the Japanese ended strongly and subdued the Indian player with a percentage play befitting her reputation and rankings.
Manika's fighting qualities came to the fore in the fourth game of the bronze-medal playoff when she was down in the dumps, with the fourth-seed Hayata holding the upper hand with four game points at 10-6.
That was when Manika launched herself, using all the tricks in her bag, attacking the flanks with crispy forehands, including some counters that brooked no challenge, and using the backhand punches to good effect and with precise placements.
At deuce, the Japanese had the service, but an unforeseen fault -- Hayata's service hit the net, and the ball dropped on her side to go down -- enabled Manika to go up with a luck point (11-10) and take the winning point when she had the service back with her.
However, the Japanese ran with a good lead in the next to reduce the margin. But Manika changed her strategy in the sixth game, attacking from the word go and allowing her opponent the first point at 3-1. She claimed another point at 5-2, but that was all she could manage.
With frustration setting in, the Japanese became more error-prone, unable to keep the ball on the table even as Manika went from strength to strength to finish the game 11-2.
On her way to the bronze, Manika upset world number 7 Chen Xingtong from China in the round of 16, then accounted for 23-rd ranked Chen Szu-Yu 4-3 of Taipei in the quarterfinals.
Manika on Friday ensured the best finish by an Indian in the 39-year-old history of the Asian Cup after Achanta Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan had finished sixth in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
The USD 200,000 event featured the top 16 players in the men's and women's singles from the continent based on world rankings and qualifications.