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Manika Batra Believes CWG Success Has Raised Interest in Table Tennis in India

The 22-year-old Manika Batra won four medals including a gold in the women’s singles at the Commonwealth Games. Though the level of competition at these games might not be considered the best, but the win ensured that Indians started recognizing the sport as well as its players. It is not the first time that TT players did the nation proud, but the magnitude of these wins was far higher as the world took notice too.

Madhav Agarwal | News18 Sports

Updated:June 4, 2018, 3:08 PM IST
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Manika Batra Believes CWG Success Has Raised Interest in Table Tennis in India
Manika Batra’s twin gold medal-winning performance. (Image: AP)
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New Delhi: What’s common among Indian cricket team’s World Cup win in 1983, wrestler Sushil Kumar’s bronze in 2008 Olympics and Saina Nehwal’s gold medal in CWG 2010? All these victories gave necessary impetus to respective sport in the country which saw them rise to unprecedented heights.

Now it’s table tennis’ turn. The 22-year-old Manika Batra won four medals including a gold in the women’s singles at the Commonwealth Games. Though the level of competition at these games might not be considered the best, but the win ensured that Indians started recognizing the sport as well as its players. It is not the first time that TT players did the nation proud, but the magnitude of these wins was far higher as the world took notice too.

After bringing India to the world map of TT and bagging a rich haul medal, Manika is pleased with her efforts. But what satisfies her the most is that she has inspired many to take up the sport. In an exclusive chat with News18 Sports, Manika talks about how she achieved monumental success and what holds in future for her.

“If you look at the number of medals I won at CWG, no one has ever achieved that feat especially in the women’s category. What pleases me the most is that table tennis has gained a lot of popularity after my 4 Medals. Now people have started taking keen interest in this sport, which wasn’t the case earlier. Parents who were reluctant to let their children play table tennis, are now happy to let them pursue it. I always wanted that kind of recognition for the sport in the country,” Manika said.

Not only players, even the coaches in the country want their wards to do exceptionally well. Perhaps which was missing earlier. Manika feels that right from the grassroots level, coaches have started putting in a lot of effort and the results for which will be visible soon.

“With the recognition table tennis has got, coaches are motivated to work really hard with us. My coach (Sandeep Gupta) put in tireless hours with me to devise strategy for different players and that paid rich dividends. The coaching scene, overall, has improved in vast proportions. Earlier the general perception among coaches was that there is not much scope for this country, but that has certainly changed now.

"With our CWG returns, coaches even at the grassroots want their wards to win medals for their country, as they know it’s possible if right guidance is provided. Also, foreign coaches are now taking a keen interest to train Indian players. So that will obviously help us.”

During the Commonwealth Games, Manika got the better of Singapore’s three-time Olympic medalist Tianwei Feng. If one remembers that match, on some occasions Feng was caught unawares and didn’t know which direction the ball was spinning. The trick lay in Manika’s backhand. The Delhi girl uses a long-pimpled rubber on the backside of her racket, which provides better defence. The rubber absorbs the spin and turns around the ball in an opposite direction. The same can be used for an attacking return shot with unusual spin.

Feng tried to negate the effect of long-pimpled rubber by playing on Manika’s backhand continuously, expecting weaker returns. But all she got was smashing strokes from the forehand.

Despite getting consistent results with this technique, Manika wants to add a few more shots to her arsenal so that her style of play doesn’t become predictable.

“I have long-pimpled rubber on the backhand of my racket. Not many players round the world use that because it’s hard to control. The key is to flip the side of the racket just in time that can put the opponent in trouble. So basically the opponent is expecting the ball to turn in one direction, but the ball moves in the other direction instead. Now that my strategy is out in my open, players will try to target me on the forehand, so I’m improving that.

"I have other things planned as well and am trying to master those techniques too. I should be prepared to play from the forehand too. I’m a player who relies a lot on the backhand. So now I need to improve upon switching (changing side of the racket) to forehand.”

Manika has been using this technique for the longest of time, and fearing that it might be tinkered with, she turned down an offer to train in Sweden at the Peter Karlsson Academy way back in 2012. For her, she did not want to change her style of play which was getting results for her.

“I was offered to train in Sweden way back in 2012. But I did not accept that offer as my style of play is totally different. I use a different style of rubber on my racket. Had I gone out, maybe they would have tried to tinker with my style of playing. I did not want to change my style of play at all as I was doing well in it,” she added.

Before the Asian Games, Manika wants to improve upon her back and leg strength. Being a tall player she has to squat a little more than usual and that puts a lot of pressure on her back and legs. She wants to be in best possible shape to produce results against top athletes.

“For this fitness is the key. I’d have to more agile and quicker on my feet to match the other top players in the world. Talking about my height, I have a good reach. But the problem comes when I have to squat more than other players. That puts extra pressure on my back and legs. I have to be top shape always to compete with the best in the world.”

Now the task at hand for the lanky paddler is to do well in the Ultimate Table Tennis, for her team Dabang Smashers. She believes having G Sathiyan, highest ranked men's singles player, will be an added advantage.

"All the teams are tough but of course, playing with Sathiyan will be a bonus as we are top-ranked Indians. The goal is to win the championship for the team, which I wasn't able to last year. So this year I hope to win UTT," she concluded.
| Edited by: Abhimanyu Sen
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