It was a dream come true moment for Indias para-badminton star Manasi Joshi when she clinched her first World Championships crown, overcoming experienced compatriot Parul Parmer in the womens singles SL3 final here on Saturday.
Having faced three-time world champion Parmer several times this year and always finishing on the losing side, Joshi wasn’t the favourite going into the final. However, she beat the odds by keeping her calm and by unleasing some sharp strokes to defeat Parmer 21-12, 21-7 for the first time in her fledgling career.
Joshi, who lost her left leg in an accident in 2011, made a slow start and was even 2-7 down in the opening game, but raced ahead owing to better fitness. In the second game, she was ahead from the start and went on to pick up 9 consecutive points en route the gold.
An elated Joshi later admitted that her strenuous training at the Pullela Gopichand Academy recently did wonders to her campaign.
“I have trained extremely hard…training three sessions a day. The focus was on my fitness, so I also lost some weight and gained more muscle. I spent more time in the gym, working six sessions a week.
“I also put a lot of effort to improve my strokes and played practice matches everyday at the Academy. I believe the improvements are already showing,” the 30-year-old told the Paralympic Committee of India.
“I’ve been playing para badminton since 2015. Winning medal at the worlds is always a dream come true,” she said.
Joshi added that she now has a new walking prosthesis socket. “The old one which I was using for the last five years was making me slow during workouts.”
Joshi, who had looked up to German tennis legend Steffi Graf growing up, now wants to “play more singles matches at other events, including the Asian Championships”.
“I hope our event is included as para sports in the next edition of Paralympic Games,” she said.
With 14 events included at the Paralympics, the women’s singles SL3 category is not part of the Tokyo 2020 Games. She is keeping her fingers crossed though.
Praising Joshi’s improved show, India coach Gaurav Khanna said that it’s the beginning of a new era.
“Parul (Parmer) was leading the show for many years. No doubt she plays with a lot of zeal, determination and willpower, but she is 46 years old and that makes a difference when you are up against a younger player.
“I am sure she will make a comeback. Having said that, Manasi (Joshi) has improved over the years. And she is much more mature as a player now. I am very happy for her. She produced a splendid performance,” Khanna told PCI.
Besides Joshi, Pramod Bhagat and Manoj Sarkar were the other gold medallists on Saturday as they came from a game down to defeat compatriots Nitesh Kumar and Tarun Dhillon 14-21, 21-15, 21-16 in the men’s doubles SL3-4 category final.
World No. 1 Bhagat is in fact in line for a double crown as he is scheduled to take on second seed Daniel Bethell of England in the men’s singles SL3 final on Sunday. The Odisha-born overcame his partner Sarkar, a silver medallist in 2017 worlds, 21-18, 21-16 in the semifinal.
In men’s singles SL4 final, two-time champion Dhillon will take on top seed Lucas Mazur of France.
In other matches, third seeds Krishna Nagar and Raja Magotra settled for silver after going down 15-21, 21-17, 18-21 against top seeds Man Kai Chu and Chun Yim Wong of Chinese Taipei in a thrilling men’s doubles SS6 category final that lasted 55 minutes.
India are assured of 12 medals and have already clinched two gold, three silver and five bronze medals.
“I hope we can add two more gold medals to our tally,” Khanna added.