Tokyo Paralympics: Bhavinaben Patel wins semifinal, assured of silver


India’s Bhavinaben Patel is assured of a silver medal after beating Rio Olympics silver medallist Zhang Miao of China in the semifinal of the Women’s Singles Class 4 category at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Saturday.

Bhavinaben won 7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8 in 34 minutes to enter the gold medal match, where she will face World No. 1 Zhou Ying of China at 7:15am on Sunday. Earlier in the week, Bhavinaben had lost her first group stage match to Zhou, whose five Paralympic medals include gold medals in singles at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and at the 2012 London Paralympics.

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The first game was won by Zhang in just five minutes. In the second, Bhavinaben won by the exact same score and took the same amount of time. The scores were level until 6-6 before the Indian won a couple of points to go ahead 8-6; from there she held on to the lead to take the game and level the match. The third game was a one-sided affair, Bhavinaben needing just four minutes to take it 11-4. The fourth game was a much more competitive affair, with neither player able to run away with a lead. From 9-9, however, Zhang won a couple of points to take the game and level the match.

Bhavinaben had a great start to the fifth game, winning the first five points until Zhang got on the board. The Indian held on to the lead and pulled away for 8-3 before Zhang mounted a comeback. The Chinese woman began to take a little more time between points and five won of the next six points to close the gap down to 8-9. Bhavinaben then took a timeout, after which she won two straight points to seal the game and the match.

On Friday, Bhavaniben became the first Indian table tennis player to secure a medal at the Paralympics after defeating the defending champion Borislava Perić-Ranković of Serbia 11-5, 11-6, 11-7 in the quarterfinals. In the earlier round on Friday, Bhavaniben, 34, had defeated Joyce de Oliveira of Brazil 12-10, 13-11, 11-6.

Perić-Ranković, a veteran of four Olympics, had won gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, and silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Games. Bhavinaben needed only 18 minutes to seal the win in the quarterfinal to assure herself of a medal. There are no third-place playoffs in table tennis at the Paralympics, with both losing semifinalists getting bronze.

Earlier, Bhavinaben came back from behind in each game of her pre-quarterfinal match. From 9-10 down, she saved a game point en route to winning 12-10. In the second game, the Indian saved three game points down 7-10 before winning two straight points to take the game. In the third game, Bhavinaben came back from 0-3 down, winning seven straight points before sealing the game and the match.

Athletes in Class 4 category have fair sitting balance and fully functional arms and hands. Their impairment may be due to a lower spinal-cord lesion or cerebral palsy. In para table tennis, classes 1-5 are for wheelchair athletes, classes 6-10 are for standing athletes and class 11 is for athletes with intellectual impairments. Within wheelchair and standing class, the lower the number, the greater is the impact the impairment has on an athlete’s ability to compete.

Bhavinaben’s impairment was due to having contracted polio when she was just one. When pursuing an industrial training course with the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad, she picked up table tennis for fun. She won silver in the women’s doubles TT3-5 category at the 2018 Asian Para Games with Sonalben Patel, whose campaign in Tokyo came to an end on Thursday. Bhavinaben is currently ranked 12th in her division.

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