Top of the table Manika banking on fitness to beat Chinese, Japanese

- May 31, 2024

Ace table tennis player Manika Batra, who became the first Indian to break into world’s top 25, says stamina and agility will be crucial at Olympics

STAR PLAYER: Manika Batra won bronze in mixed doubles in the 2018 Asian Games. She also won four medals, including two gold, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

India’s 28 years old star table tennis player, Manika Batra, will be a marked athlete during the Paris Olympic Games starting July 26. The Khel Ratna awardee, who is the first Indian paddler to break into world’s top 25 by reaching 24 in global rankings in mid-May, has chalked out her plans to tackle opposition during her third consecutive quadrennial games in Paris. 

Hailing from West Delhi’s Naraina Vihar, the youngest of three siblings, followed in the footsteps of her brother and sister. She started playing around the age of four-five and steadily made inroads in the table tennis world.  

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia was a watershed moment for the Delhi table tennis player. She claimed the women’s singles gold medal in Australia. Thereafter, she continued to add feathers to her cap. 

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Recently, she gained spotlight by outplaying world No 2 Wang Manyu of China during an international event in Saudi Arabia. Manika isn’t basking in her past glory but is hungry for more. She has chalked out plans for the Paris Olympics Games. Apart from tactical skills, forehand is one of the areas she wants to focus on ahead of the Games. 

At the Paris Games, Manika will compete in women’s singles as well as in team event. She tried hard to earn mixed doubles quota, but wasn’t successful. “We worked hard but weren’t able to win the mixed double quota for Paris,” Manika said.

The ace player spoke to Patriot ahead of the Olympic campaign. Excerpts from the interview:

What are the plans to tackle opposition during the Paris Olympic Games, given the fact you are among the top 25 in world rankings?

I am simply focussing on improving my fitness and tactical skills. I’ve realised the importance of stamina and agility, particularly against top-ranked players like the Chinese and Japanese.

I am also working closely with my coach — Aman Balgu — to refine my game and minimise errors during crucial moments of high-quality matches. 

You have done exceedingly well during recent international tournaments…

Success at the international level has added to my confidence. Winning matches against better ranked players has also made me mentally stronger. Despite achieving success at the international level ahead of the Olympics, I am focussed and not making any major changes in preparations for the Games.

Any specific preparation you have planned for the Olympics and want to share with your fans…

I am grateful to all the fans for their support and I promise to give my best at Paris 2024. As I said before, I am focussing on intense training to improve my skills and endurance. When you reach quarterfinals and semifinals against world-class players, you have to be strong both physically and mentally. I am working to stay calm during high-profile matches. I want to improve my mental strength. Having a balanced diet, and prioritising recovery is equally important to be successful at the Paris Olympic Games.

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When and how did you start table tennis?

I started playing table tennis at a very young age. I must have been four or five, I guess. My brother and sister used to play too. So, I also got to follow the sport. As I continued playing, my interest and passion for the sport grew.

What were the challenges you faced in your formative years?

Balancing academics and training was tough during early years of playing. However, I gradually moved forward with support from family. Initially, it was tough on the domestic circuit. But I gained confidence as I started winning matches and it paid a rich dividend.

Indian table tennis players are doing excellent at the international level; what is the main reason?

I believe there are several factors that have enabled the core group of table tennis players to make a big impression at the international level. There has been a significant improvement in infrastructure and training facilities for table tennis players across the country. Good facilities have greatly contributed to improvement of skills and excellence at international level. Apart from infrastructure, international exposure and training camps have helped us gain valuable experience. 

Some fond memories of your playing days in Delhi?

Delhi holds a special place in my heart and I have cherished all the memories. I was training and competing in Delhi before moving to Mumbai. There are so many memories. However, I believe when I won the state-level under-8 tournament, and started training under Sandeep [Gupta] Sir at the Hansraj Model School, it laid the foundation of my sporting career.

Where do you train these days? Who is your coach?

I am training under the guidance of my coach, Aman Balgu. My training primarily takes place in Mumbai. I have all the facilities to support my preparation for international competitions.