Nikhat Zareen, Nitu Ganghas, Lovlina Borgohain and Saweety Boora made it a perfect day for Indian boxers at the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships in New Delhi as all four won their respective matches to make to the finals.
Nikhat beat Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia in the 50kg semifinal, with a measured performance that put here within one win of becoming a back-to-back world champion. The judges awarded the bout to Nikhat by a unanimous 5-0 scoreline. Nikhat will now face Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Tam in the final.
In a rematch of last year's World Championships quarterfinal in the 48kg category, Nitu beat reigning Asian champion Alua Balkibekova of Kazakhstan, 5-2. The Indian was on the back-foot in the opening round, but kept her composure and did enough in the remaining two rounds of the bout to become the first Indian to reach the final at these championships. Nitu will face Mongolia's Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg in the final, for her first-ever world championships gold medal.
Later in the day, in what was a clash between two highly decorated boxers, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina (75kg) reached her maiden World Championships final after ousting the 2018 World Champion Li Qian of China with a 4-1 victory on points after the bout was reviewed. The bout kept going back and forth with Lovlina grinding hard to prevail by 3-2 in the first round before her opponent made a comeback to win in the second by 2-3. In the third round, it was Lovlina who shifted gears impressively and sealed the win with a good attacking display in the final round. Lovlina will face the two-time Commonwealth Games medallist Caitlin Parker of Australia in the final on Sunday.
Wrapping up India's dominance in the semifinals, three-time Asian medallist Saweety (81kg) defeated Emma-Sue Greentree of Australia 4-3 on points after the bout was reviewed. Saweety used all her experience to triumph over her opponent in the fiercely contested fight. She will now go up against the 2018 World Champion Wang Lina of China in the final on Saturday.
What they said
On the match: Firstly, today's was my fifth bout in this competition, everyday I'm improving. I'm very happy with the way I performed against such an experienced boxer.
On playing in front of the home crowd: The feeling is surreal. The way they support me, it motivates me a lot when I'm the ring. When the round finishes and I come back to my corner, before sir (coach) tells me the score, I hear the crowd's noise and I know I'm ahead, that's one kind motivation of me.
On the upcoming final: I have made my name in this 50kg category. Here I have had back-to-back tough opponents, all of them experienced and strong. There's one more match to go, hopefully I can win and defend my title. We haven't made any strategy for the final, but I will sit with the coaches before the final and make a plan and will fight accordingly.
On the match: My first three matches all end with RSCs, and today the semifinal was tough. I had lost to her last time in the world championship on split decision. Today, I just wanted to win, and I managed to do that. I knew she was tiring, she was falling in the second and third rounds, and she was making me fall too, it was a sign that she was tired.
On what she did different to last time: The last time I played against her, the mistake I made was that I played with too much distance between us, because of which I could not cover her for all three rounds. Today I just wanted to play from close range. I usually play from long range, but she feels very comfortable when I play from long range. I wanted to show her that I could attack from close range.
On the mindset before the semifinal: There was a bit of pressure before the bout because I had lost to her last time. I didn't want to make the same mistakes again. I had to play with my brain. Even if I got a little flustered, I would lose.
On the bout: Today's bout was a bit tough. I fought as per our plan and strategy. I was aggressive in the final round, the way my coaches told me to fight. My plan was to confuse the opponent. I was attacking but was counter-attacking the opponent.
On facing Australia's Caitlin Parker in the final: In boxing, all matches are like the final. I went into all my bouts thinking they were the finals. I'm expecting it to be a tough final, but I will work as per the plan from the coaches. I'll go into the ring and decide because you have to face various situations once you go in.
On her journey since the Olympics: I had many up and down since the Olympics. My (preferred) weight category (69kg) was removed after the Olympics so I had to struggle to get ready for the new category (75kg). I started doing well as I played more tournaments in the new category. I'm comfortable now considering I don't have to control my weight too much. I do well because this is my natural weight. By God's grace, everything's going well now.
On fighting under pressure: I had no pressure. I don't believe that Australia are better than India. Pressure should be on the opponents. If you take pressure, you'll not put up a good performance.
On four Indian boxers making it to the final: I was expecting all six boxers to be in the final. I hope we can convert all the medals into gold.