Before the 2022 Commonwealth Games, perhaps only a handful of Indian athletes could have boasted of being a shoo-in to clinch gold medals in Birmingham. Bhavina Patel was one such athlete.

She was an overwhelming favourite to clinch gold in para table tennis women’s classes 3-5, and Bhavina Patel did just that. And after her serene progress through the tournament, the emotions came pouring out. First when she clinched the final and then when she was on top of the podium with the national anthem playing. The usually meditative Bhavina couldn’t hold the tears back.


While Bhavina was expected to triumph, as she put it, she also had a score to settle. At her previous appearance at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, she had missed out on a place in the semifinal by a single point.

One match in particular, scuppered her campaign. In a close match against eventual bronze medallist Faith Obiora, Bhavina lost her deciding final game 17-15. That close loss meant she finished fourth in a very close group. That loss clearly stayed on in her mind as she prepared for her second CWG outing.

Ek hisab chugta karna hai ki (I have a score to settle). In the 2010 CWG, I lost the deciding game against the Nigerian athlete by 1 point. So I have to correct that record in Birmingham,” Bhavina had said in an interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India prior to the Games.

At the Tokyo Paralympics, Bhavina, then World No 12, punched above her weight and defeated higher-ranked players, including the likes of defending champion Borislava Peric-Rankovic in the quarterfinal, and 2016 Rio silver medallist Zhang Miao in the semi-final. Though she would lose to six-time gold medallist and World No 1 Ying Zhou in the final, Bhavina became the first Indian to win a table tennis medal at the Olympics or Paralympics.

The silver medal and a couple of strong showings in later competitions propelled Bhavina into the top 10 and she went to Birmingham as the highest-ranked player in the field as the world no 8.

Twelve years after her heart-break in Delhi, Bhavina was the player to beat.

It didn’t help her that everyone around her was telling that she had to come back with gold. Though she had trained herself over the past few years to cope with pressure, Bhavina had admitted that the burden of expectation often weighs on her. During such times, Bhavina can count on her husband Nikul to reassure her and ensure she doesn’t stray from her path.

“A few days ago, I felt the pressure of being a Paralympic silver medallist. I told my husband ‘All eyes are on me and people are expecting things from me. Everyone tells me: ‘You HAVE to come back with a medal.’ My husband said: ‘We did not play for medals before and we won’t play for medals going forward as well. We just want to give our best every day.’

“I’m trying not to feel pressure because I’m training myself to be mentally strong. If you focus on your daily routine, if you focus on your process, it just becomes a habit. Now I keep telling myself what people say and what I have to do are completely different things. I’m able to understand myself better and know how to focus on what’s important,” Bhavina had said.

“Being mentally strong is not a one-day thing. You have to fill your mind with positive thoughts every day. You have to make it your routine. You need to stay away from negative people. Even if my parents say something which I find unhelpful, I will tell them to stop. These are all small things, but they have a great impact on your mind. If you have a big goal, you need to focus on these minor aspects.”

In Birmingham, it did seem like the pressure finally got to Bhavina... for maybe all of five minutes at the start of her campaign. In her opening match against Australia’s Daniela Di Toro, she lost the opening game 8-11. That was the only game Bhavina would lose in Birmingham as she justified her favourite tag by romping to the gold medal without dropping any more games.

For Bhavina, the CWG gold medal will just be a milestone to be ticked off on the way to delivering for her country at the 2024 Paris Olympics. The Commonwealth Games was, as she had put it, simply a practice session.

“My aim is to be World no 1 in singles. CWG is a practice session for me, because my real aim is Paris 2024. So whatever tournaments come between now and Paris, I want to give my best in each of them.”