New Delhi, Feb 21 : Vinesh Phogat's hoodoo against Japanese world No.3 Mayu Mukaida continued as the Asian Games gold medallist lost 2-6 in her 53kg bout at the Asian Wrestling Championships here on Friday.
It was the third time that Vinesh lost to Mukaida, but the margin of defeat has come down in each passing bout. Vinesh was still fresh to the 53kg weight class when she first faced Mukaida in last year's Asian Championships in China. She had lost the bout 0-10.
The next bout came in the 2019 World Championships in Kazakhstan in which Vinesh lost 0-7. At the KD Jadhav wrestling hall on Friday, the score was 6-2 in the Japanese wrestler's favour.
Vinesh said the reduced margin of victory was the result of all that she has been working on.
"She has got more experience than me in this category. For me, this is all part of the learning process. Japan is on top, so beating wrestlers from there is not easy," she told reports on Friday after she confirmed a bronze medal for herself with a typically dominant 10-0 win over Vietnam's Thi Ly Kieu.
"The training and the process that I follow is showing on the mat. I performed as I had expected.
"There is still time to make myself better (before the Olympics) and that's all there is in my hand, which is to work as hard as I can. The rest is up to what happens on that given day.
"If the match is against a strong opponent, then even the smallest of mistakes can be costly. And the same goes for the opponent also," she said.
Vinesh said that despite the loss, she was happy that she was getting closer to cracking the puzzle posed by Mukaida.
"We have faced each other three times and we both understand each other's game better now. Whatever she worked upon in preparation for this match was more successful today than whatever I worked on," she said.
"It feels good. I lost but to be honest, I am happy that I got to face an opponent who forces me to be at my very best. When the level is so high, you win some and you lose some," she added.
Vinesh is one of four Indian wrestlers participating at the Asian Championships who don't have to worry about qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, although a good ranking going into the marquee event could give her a favourable draw.
"It's good that I don't have to worry about qualifying and everything that comes with it. The pressure certainly affects you. Today I know that I'm going (to Tokyo) and I know who I will be facing, so I can work on that," she said.
She is considered a medal contender at the Tokyo Games, which means she is in the crosshairs of some of the top wrestlers in her weight category.
As for Mukaida, Vinesh believes that she has to improve her reflexes to deal with the Japanese wrestler's lightning fast attacking moves.
"I have to be faster with my reflexes and that is what we are working on. Her attacking speed is really high. If I give even the slightest of chance, she pounces on it. That is what I am working on.
"It's not easy at all, to keep strategies for different wrestlers. The learning process never ends, and I think it should never end. I don't think there is anyone who is so great that she/he doesn't have anything left to learn," Vinesh said.
The Olympics is just about five months away, but that is not something that Vinesh is worried about. "Every day is important. If I start thinking that I have to hurry up in my preparations, I will only end up missing out on things. Yes, there is not a lot of time left but it's not like there is nt time at all," she said.