After para world title, teenage shuttler Manisha has eyes set on Paris - thebestdealindia

After para world title, teenage shuttler Manisha has eyes set on Paris

Manisha Ramadass, only 17, and a para-badminton world champion in the SU5 category, was thrilled to hear that five minutes after she won the title in Tokyo, her name flashed as ‘Breaking News’ on every Tamil channel. “I was Breaking News on all news channels,” she gleams, breaking into another fit of giggles.

“I was a forcep baby,” the Thiruvallur resident has explained a few moments earlier, in a quieter tone, describing growing up with a right-hand impediment due to the natal injury. Three surgeries later, there wasn’t enough improvement to call the arm ‘normal.’ Like a true champion, the teenager views this from the shuttle lens.

“At the max level, the hand has only 40-50 percent of power it should. It can’t turn or lift or straighten like others. It’s a little lean,” she says, before piping up mischievously: “it helps me deceive with my service – which I decided will be strong a long time back.”

She plays with her left hand but the other hand is crucial because a lot of power in smashes gets generated from the right, and the body is generally centred and balanced owing to the non-hitting arm.

When she started at 10, after playing volleyball, handball and tennikoit, she fell in love with badminton. “I still remember, my first day at the academy was September 3 and I was very excited. After that, I never stopped except for 6 months for another surgery. I couldn’t give up,” says the youngster who has increased her 6.5 hours of training daily to 8 over the last six months . “The extra hours were simple strokes, light training because I knew others would come to the World Championships prepared. I needed more dedication.”

Manisha says she doesn’t give up fast, and that comes from off-court fitness work – agility and strength. She doesn’t know too many top names on the para-circuit, having started only in March this year, and has stuck to idolising Saina Nehwal like she did at the outset, when she tried mimicking her smash and “kill fast drop”.

Her father is a civil contractor who played ball badminton. “But that’s a team sport. Not that I don’t like team games, I follow Barcelona every match,” she happily chortles. “And I like to draw and dance. Simple dance. Sketching is less now than during lockdown. But I love sleeping the most. It helps athletes in recovery,” she says.

She’s slated to aim for gold at the Paris Paralympics, and try for a double, combining forces with para shuttle’s legendary four-time singles and twice doubles World champion Pramod Bhagat.

“Lin Dan’s 5 titles my goal”

Bhagat defeated compatriot Nitesh Kumar for his fourth title, and says he uttered – four down, 1 to go. “Lin Dan had 5 continuous World titles. So when I won at Tokyo, I took a long breath and relaxed repeating ‘4 done, 1 left.’”

It wasn’t as easy as strolling past opponents given the quality of para shuttle has rapidly risen since it became part of the Paralympics programme.

This was evident in a 104-shot rally against Kumar that Bhagat dubs the turning point of the final. He had narrowly eked out the opener 22-20. “The 100+ shots happened in the second, and winning the longer rallies meant the game changed after that. It had been close till then. I just told myself there’s no way I’m leaving the shuttle. I tried attacking drops, backhands, overheads and dribbles.” All along a straight axis mostly, with varying lengths.

It was a literal who-blinks-first as Bhagat kept tossing and lifting to Kumar’s forehand corner, stringing him on a back-and-forecourt yo-yo as the shuttle refused to hit the court. Amazingly, he moved not more than a metre himself as the rally prolonged and kept pinning the opponent to a spot along the back lines, hoping to draw an error.

Kumar was up to the task and returned for a whole 140 seconds – the rally in a non-drift, slow shuttle stadium still seeing a fast exchange. It would end with a sliced drop. “At the crucial time.”

More crucially, Bhagat’s energy reserves had been depleting as he had woken up the day of the final with a slight fever, and felt his temperature spike as the match wore on. “The body pain was increasing and if it hadn’t been straight sets, it would be difficult. I just told myself no matter what happens, I won’t get unstable even if my strength is down. Yeh nikaalna hi hai match (this match has to be won),” he would say.

Pramod Bhagat after becoming SL-3 world champion again.

The run-up to the para Worlds had been quite stressful, with three back-to-back finals losses to Japanese Daisuki Fujihara on the tour. “Those two months, I was very anxious because the pressure of losing to him had built up. Once was fine, twice ok, but a third time! In a big event like the World Championships, you can’t give the excuse that you had a fever! I had worked very hard in the two months leading up to the Worlds.”

He would train at the Dravid Padukone academy in Bengaluru this time. “More skills and speed,” he said, with Vimal Kumar and Sagar Chopda sharpening his net play. “I used only 40 percent of the net skills this time, but I have lots more to win. So I will start using that when qualification for Paris starts,” he says. Meantime, there’s Lin Dan’s five straight titles from able-bodied badminton to aim for. Plus the doubles with Manisha. “Her energy is very good. She gives a good fight. I’m very excited to partner with her,” he says.

“See I keep telling myself I’m the best. I know I’m not perfect, and galtiyaa ho jaati hai (mistakes happen). But I want to know I’ve given my best each time,” Bhagat says of aiming to be simply the best.

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