Editor’s note: This report was originally published after her quarterfinal win. On Saturday, she won in the semifinal to reach final. On Sunday, she clinched silver medal.
Paddler Bhavina Patel created history when she assured India’s first medal at the ongoing Tokyo Paralympics on Friday, by reaching the semi-final of the women’s singles Class 4 event after stunning the reigning champion. She followed it up with a win in the last four on Saturday and then finished her singles campaign with a silver medal on Sunday.
The 34-year-old became the first-ever Indian table tennis player to earn a place on the podium at the Paralympic Games and it was confirmed when she knocked out world No 2 Borislava Peric-Rankovic of Serbia in straight games in the last eight stage. There is no bronze medal playoff in table tennis at this edition and both semi-finalists were assured of a medal.
But the debutant went one better and made it a silver, to become the second Indian woman athlete to achieve the feat after Deepa Malik.
Competing in her maiden Paralympic Games, Patel, ranked 12 in the world, has had a terrific campaign in Tokyo where she defeated four players ranked higher than her. On the first day, in a tough match against the current world No 1 Zhou Ying she started with a 0-3 defeat in Group A.
But she bounced back and how. In the second group match on Thursday, she had beaten world No 9 Megan Shackleton in must-win group stage match in four games. The third game was a marathon battle. She prevailed in the match and sealed her progress to the knockout stage.
In the round of 16 on Friday, she notched up a strong win over Joyce de Oliveira of Brazil, the world No 8 to reach the quarter-final. She displayed tremendous composure under pressure in the first and second games. She was down 9-10 in game 1 and then saved the game point to win three points in a row. In the second game, she was down 7-10 and faced three game points. From there she won four straight points and eventually clinched it 13-11. In the third game, she was trailing 0-3 and went on a streak of seven straight points.
In her quarterfinal win, she trailed for just one point in the entire match: at 0-1 in the second game, but otherwise dominated the 49-year-old from Serbia, considered to be a legend of the sport who has won multiple Paralympic and Worlds medals in her career in the Class 4 category.
In the semifinal, up against Zhang Miao, she was up against it. In their 11 previous meetings, Bhavina had never defeated Zhang, a former world No 1 and currently No 3. But she came up with a stunning display to win in five games.
Here’s a brief background on the Indian paddler:
Full name: Bhavinaben Hasmukhbhai Patel
Date of Birth: 6 November 1986 (Age 34)
Native: Vadnagar, Gujarat
Training base: Blind people’s Association, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Coach: Mr. Lalan Doshi
Classification: SPORT CLASS 4, Table tennis: In TT, paddlers in classes 1-5 compete in a wheelchair. Class 4 players have some sitting balance and fully functional arms and hands. They can move to the front to meet their opponent’s serve.
Has participated in 28 International tournaments and has won five gold, 13 silver, and bronze medals for India, including Asian Games medallist
Won Sardar Patel Award in year 2011-12
Awarded Eklavya Award in 2011-12
The 34-year-old was diagnosed with polio when she was 12 months old. She grew up in a middle-class family at Sundhiya, Vadnagar in Mehsana, Gujarat. In the fourth grade, her parents took her to Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh for a surgery. According to a profile by the Sports Authority of India, she was negligent and did not take proper care and did not follow the exercise regime prescribed by the doctor and her disease got worse.
She studied till grade 12 in her village and after that her father decided to enrol her in the Blind People’s Association, Ahmadabad in the year 2004. She did a computer course under the supervision of Tejalben Lakhia and pursued her graduation through correspondence from Gujarat University. There she came to know that there were sports activities available in the organization and Lakhia put her in touch with Lalan Doshi. Lakhia and Doshi motivated her to start doing physical activities for fitness and gradually the game became her passion.
She started to play table tennis professionally and after three years won her first-ever gold medal at the Para Table Tennis Nationals in Bangalore. She started her international career from Jordan but it took a while to win her first medal.
Patel participated in Commonwealth Games 2010 and lost in the quarter-finals. Finally, in 2011, she won a silver medal at the Para Table Tennis Thailand Open. She then won a silver medal for the first time in Asian Regional Championship in 2013.
After that her dream was to win gold in singles as well as doubles, where she partners Sonalben Patel. Bhavina Patel finally won her first gold medal in singles at Bangkok in 2019 and followed it up with a doubles gold. She has also won a medal at the Asian Para Games 2018.
Patel was selected for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games as well but was not able to play due to technical reasons, as per SAI. But she qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics 2020, reportedly becoming the first Indian woman to achieve the feat in the singles table tennis.
The Sports Authority of India has provided assistance towards procuring a Robot ‘Butterfly – Amicus Prime’, an Ottobock Wheelchair and a table. Other assistance included support towards physiotherapy, dietician, psychologist and coach fee to prepare for the Paralympic Games.
Patel will be in action in the semifinals at 6:10 am (IST) on Saturday.
With inputs from Sports Authority of India