'You will see a different Bhavina against Zhou Ying next time'

Bhavina Patel, who made history for India by becoming the first table tennis player from the country to win a medal in the Paralympic Games here on Sunday, said she would do her best to reverse the outcome of the match when she meets her Chinese opponent, world No. 1 Zhou Ying, in future tournaments.

Bhavina, ranked 12th in the world, had made an incredible run to the final by beating the gold and silver medallist of the 2016 Rio Paralympics. On Sunday, she found Zhou, winner at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, too strong to handle and lost 3-0 (7-11, 5-11, 6-11) in a 19-minute encounter in women's singles Class 4.

"I'm extremely delighted to win a medal but also a bit disappointed as well. I got a bit nervous," said Bhavina, who had also lost to the same opponent in the league fixture.

"(But) I can assure you that (the) next time I meet her (Zhou), you will see a different me. She clearly got the better of me and had all the shots in her book to outsmart my effort," added Bhavina.

For a woman coming from a small village in Mahesana district of Gujarat, this fairy-tale is laced with nothing but hard work. Five years ago, red tape had played a part in Bhavina missing the 2016 Rio Paralympics and she was completely shattered.

"It took her over three months to get over it," recalls husband Nikul.

"We have been married for four years and I'm saying she is much stronger than me. There was an issue with her paperwork (before Rio) because of which she missed the International Table Tennis Federation deadline and missed the opportunity. We both were devastated. I'm amazed the way Bhavina has kept herself motivated," said Nikul.

Bhavina also says that missing Rio was a blessing in disguise. "Had that not happened, probably I would not have been here with the medal," she said, adding that the government should provide more opportunities to people with disabilities.

"What I went through growing up, I don't want the next generation of people with disability to suffer. Accessibility is a major issue and so are jobs and other opportunities. If my medal can somehow make the right noise and get people at the helm to take notice, I will be more than happy."

Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) president Deepa Malik too was elated. "From one wheelchair silver medallist to another... I won at Rio and here too a woman athlete has got the first silver for the country. It is a huge moment for all of us to cherish. She will be a huge role model for woman empowerment and gender equality. There is so much that a medal in sport can change," said Deepa.

Zhou too was all praise for Bhavina. "You might be thinking the match was easy but it was a tough contest. I had prepared well for this game and had worked really hard. Every time I play against her it is a different contest. I'm really delighted for her and for myself. There will be more rivalries to come between us and I'm looking forward to that challenge."

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