Winner against the odds four years ago in Gold Coast, Manika Batra set the Oxenford Studios alight, she thrilled the local Australian crowd when emerging the women’s singles winner, having earlier guided India to the top step of the women’s team podium.
In the English city of Birmingham, she defends her titles at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games; proceedings commencing with the opening ceremony on Thursday 28th July, the action starting one day later.
Similar dramatic scenes no doubt await in the multi-sport extravaganza, players straining every sinew to reach standards never previously enjoyed in a gathering that for most is second only to the Olympic Games.
Action and for table tennis it is 11 days of continuous action, play concluding on Monday 8th August, the day of the closing ceremony; of the 25 sports listed, table tennis is one of only four disciplines that witnesses play on each day of competition, the others being badminton, hockey and squash.
Furthermore, for table tennis there are more events than ever previously staged; four para events, one wheelchair and one standing for each gender plus the seven mainstream competitions form a most comprehensive schedule.
Present in Manchester
It is notable progress since table tennis first appeared in the Commonwealth Games in 2002 in Manchester, just one para event was staged, women’s singles open wheelchair.
The winner was England’s Sue Gilroy, now Sue Bailey, once again she is on duty, her name appears on the women’s singles class 3-5 entry list.
Present two decades ago, it is the same for Australia’s Jian Fang Lay, a player with a quite unique record; she has plied her skills in the colours of the green and gold at every Commonwealth Games since 2002.
Moreover, with her controlled, close to the table tennis penhold grip style of play, she is a contender for honours but is the greatest challenge to Manika Batra’s crown that of Singapore’s Feng Tianwei?
Impressively, Feng Tianwei won in 2010 in Delhi and in 2014 in Glasgow, losing to Manika Batra at the semi-final stage in Gold Coast. Now approaching her 36th birthday, could Birmingham be the Singaporean’s swansong?
High level challengers
Meanwhile, for the men, judging by his form this year and ascending the World Table Tennis Rankings, the player to note is Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna, the men’s singles runner up four years ago, when beaten in the final by Singapore’s now retired Gao Ning.
Equally, he will face stern competition, Sharath Kamal Achanta, the men’s singles winner in 2004 in Melbourne flies the Indian flag, alongside Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
Similarly, England’s Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford, both men’s singles contenders, defend their men’s doubles crown.
In a likewise vein, colleague Ross Wilson will be looking for a repeat. In Gold Coast he won men’s singles class 6-10, in Birmingham he competes in men’s singles class 8-10.
The reigning men’s singles class 8 world champion, Ross Wilson is very much a name to note but if there are two players in the para events who are odds on for medals, it is in women’s singles class 6-10.
Australia’s Lei Lina and Yang Qian both compete; at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games both struck gold, Lei Lina in women’s singles class 9, Yang Qian in class 10.
Worthy names and more can be added to the overall list, Canada’s Eugene Wang and Zhang Mo, the latter more than once the nemesis of Jian Fang Lay, compete as do bright young teenagers in the guise of Anna Hursey from Wales and Sophie Earley from Northern Ireland.
Also note the name of Australia’s Liu Yangzi, in 2021, an unblemished under 19 girls’ singles record at World Table Tennis Youth Contender tournaments, winning three times, before in December, emerging successful at the WTT Feeder Düsseldorf tournament in December.
Could she upset the odds in Birmingham?
Mouthwatering action awaits in what must be not only one of the most accessible venues in the United Kingdom or for that matter anywhere in the world.
Home for proceedings is the National Exhibition Centre, the first ever event in the spacious complex being the 1977 World Table Tennis Championships, the premises are on the same site as Birmingham International Airport and Birmingham International Railway Station, travel by rail to London Euston is just one hour and 11 minutes.
Equally, Birmingham is at the heart of the motorway network, you can travel to London via the M40 or M6 and then M1; to Manchester or Glasgow it is the M6 in the northerly direction, to the east of England take the A45 or A47.
Moreover, if you wish some fresh air, in June 2020 Birmingham was named a “Clear Air Zone”, the extensive canal network, once pivotal in the Industrial Revolution is now a major leisure pursuit.
Tickets start at £8.00 for under 16s to £22.00 for adults.