New Delhi, July 27: Manika Batra is the face of Indian women's table tennis and the 24-year-old is taking positive strides to establish herself as a force to reckon with in the international circuit.
The prestigious Arjuna Award is recognition to her success. The Delhi girl started the year 2019 with her career-best ITTF rankings at 47, which is the best-ever rank achieved by an Indian female paddler.
The 5 feet 11-inch tall paddler from Delhi has been performing well at international level. In the coming years, she could emerge as India's medal prospect for Olympic games if she continues to maintain the upward curve.
In the second season of Ultimate Table Tennis (2018), Manika was the driving force behind her franchise Delhi Smashers' top show in the homegrown league. Delhi Smashers, now rechristened Dabang Delhi TTC, emerged as the champions of 2018 edition of the tournament and Manika played a crucial role in the success of her franchise. This year she will be playing for a new franchise - RPSG-Maverick Kolkata - and wishes to repeat the similar feat.
In an exclusive conversation with MyKhel, Manika talked about the impact of Ultimate Table Tennis on her career.
MyKhel: How Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) has helped you and other young players shape up their career?
Mankia Batra: UTT has played a very important role in our career. It has been an enriching two seasons not just for me but other young paddlers. This platform has helped not just me but several other young table tennis players in the early years of a professional career. It has provided a unique platform to the youngsters to play with international players and ranking players. The experience here helps them play big stars confidently when they go overseas for pro tours.
MK: How much of improvement you've witnessed in the Indian talents ever since the introduction of UTT?
MB: The confidence level has increased. The players have got the exposure which was lacking before and due to this they've got the belief that 'we can give a tough fight to even the best in the world on our day'.
Also, UTT has helped us make friends with the international players earlier no one used to talk to us but ever since UTT happened we started interacting with each other, getting to know each other.
MK: Has the perception towards Indian paddlers changed internationally after India fared well in the CWG 2018 and Asian Games 2018?
MB: Yes, the perception of international paddlers has changed towards Indian players after both men and women finished the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. We are taken as a threat now. The Chinese players are closely watching our game because they've started realising that we can be a major threat on our day. I've recently beaten the Chinese and Korean paddlers during pro tours, so that shows our game has improved. I am sure the level of our game will keep getting better.
MK: Which team according to you is the biggest threat in this season of UTT?
MB: I think all the six teams are equally good. We are also a strong team, obviously (laughs), and we'll give our best. My team (RPSG Mavericks Kolkata) will play first the match against Goa Challengers and we'll give our best.
MK: You, Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan are the senior-most players in the Indian team and you guys also have the added responsibility of guiding the youngsters. Does that put any pressure on you?
MB: After our success at the CWG 2018 (where India won 3 Gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze in men's, women's, and mixed doubles combined) Sharath had told me 'now you have the responsibility of women's table tennis, so be ready.' Back then I had this feeling no I cannot do, but gradually I have taken up the responsibility of helping the youngsters. It feels good to help our juniors because eventually, that will help Indian table tennis as a whole.
MK: Are you preparing for the Olympic Games in 2020 or is your focus on 2024?
MB: Yes, I am preparing for the Tokyo Olympics next year, but my main focus is on 2024 because I have changed my training regime so I will need some time to get better. For events like the Olympics, you need two-to-three years and it's not easy to achieve the results in 12 months. It's not easy for people from the outside to understand. So, I'll prepare well for the Tokyo Games but my main target is 2024. Iam not thinking about the Olympics as of now because I have quite a few pro tours lined up and I want to give my bestt.