Tokyo 2021 Paralympics: Bhavinaben Patel assured of historic table tennis medal after beating defending champ to enter semifinals

File photo: Bhavinaben Patel practices at The Blind People's Association (BPA) in Ahmedabad on June 14, 2011. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images

India's Bhavinaben Hasmukhbhai Patel became the first Indian table tennis player to secure a medal at the Paralympics after reaching the semifinals of the Women's Singles Class 4 category at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Friday. Bhavinaben is assured of a medal as there are no third-place playoffs in table tennis at the Games, and both losing semifinalists will win bronze.

Bhavinaben defeated 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, defeated Joyce de Oliveira of Brazil 12-10, 13-11, 11-6.

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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, and is now one win away from an assured medal.

Earlier, Bhavinaben came back from behind in each game of her 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.