New Delhi, Jan 11: Young India paddler Manav Thakkar started the year 2020 on a dominant note as he became World No. 1 in U-21 men's singles category in the latest International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rankings.
The 19-year-old Surat boy achieved the feat after winning the U-21 men's singles title at the ITTF Challenge Plus Benemax-Virgo North American Open in Markham, Canada in December last year. The teenager defeated Argentina's Martin Bentancor 11-3 11-5 11-6 to win the title.
Thakkar, thus, became the fourth Indian to achieve the feat after Harmeet Desai, G Sathiyan and Soumyajit Ghosh. Thakkar was also the World No. 1 in the Under-18 category in February last year.
The teenage sensation, who was part of the Indian men's squad that won Commonwealth Gold in 2018 and a bronze in Asian Games the same year, is making rapid progress which gives the team a happy headache in the Olympic year.
Seniors like Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan, and Harmeet Desai form the core of Indian men's squad but Thakkar's progress at the big stage makes the team stronger. Apart from doing well at the international platform in his age group, the youngster displayed great performances during the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) 2019 and stunned some of the big names in the business during the league. He is now be fancying his chances in the team's Olympic squad and aims to help the team qualify for the biggest sporting event on the planet that is held every four years.
Manav is in Dusseldorf (Germany) to prepare with the rest of the team for the Olympic qualifiers, which will be held in Portugal at the end of this month, and he spoke to MyKhel from Germany. The Surat lad spoke about the compliments he's been receiving after becoming World No.1, role Ultimate Table Tennis has played in his success, and also about his individual plans for the year.
Here are the excerpts:
MyKhel: How do you feel having become the number one-ranked paddler? Who gave you the best compliments?
Manav Thakkar: I am feeling very good to be the first Indian TT player to reach the top ranking spot in the world ranking in both U-18 and U-21 format. It gives me more motivation to do the best and achieve more in future. Everyone is giving me best compliments like federation, sponsors, UTT, and 11 sports (the organisers of UTT).
MK: So, what are your plans for this year? What are your plans for the Olympic qualifiers in the singles category, are you thinking about it?
MT: I am selected in the Indian senior team. Our next target is to qualify the Indian team for Tokyo Olympic 2020. We will play Olympic qualification (team) in Portugal in the last week of January.
First, we have to qualify for it and yes, I will be looking forward to being the part of the Indian contingent at Olympics but for that need to improve my world ranking will work for it.
MK: Indian Men's team is ranked 8th in the world and all you guys need to do is qualify into the quarter-finals at the World Team Qualification to get an Olympic berth. How confident you guys are about that?
MT: The team is confident, we are training together and having preparation camps in Chennai and Dusseldorf. Currently, the Indian team is doing well, but it's still important that we stay focused and give our best shot at qualifications.
MK: The absence of the national coach is a concern that too in an Olympic year. What is the Federation's message to you guys? How do you guys prepare individually and as a team?
MK: In the absence of the coach, the federation is helping a lot to the players by sending Indian coaches and the ex-players like Arup Basak, Soumyadeep Roy, who were very good players and did very well for the country; and also the players are experienced enough to prepare and support is being given by federation, Government of India, and UTT.
MK: How difficult it gets for players to prepare in the absence of the head coach of the national side. Sharath once told me that a coach's main task would be to help and prepare the doubles and mixed doubles teams. So, how did you guys prepared for the doubles?
MT: Look, if we train together we can definitely prepare for doubles and perform well. For the doubles, we had a training camp in Chennai from 20-30 December and 12-20 January in Dusseldorf we will be training again together.
MK: What do seniors like Sharath and Sathiyan tell youngsters like you to improve the game? When do you go generally approach them for help?
MT: Sharath bhaiya and Sathiyan bhaiya play an important role as they are currently performing very well. So personally for me, they guide me in making proper scheduling and mentoring as they have also gone through the same phase so they motivate and also told me to work more on fitness to go to the peak in future.
MK: You made some fine performances in the UTT last year. What role has UTT played in your success at the big stage?
MT: UTT league helped me a lot in improving my game I got the opportunity to play with top players of the word. Many of them are Olympians as they represented their countries at the biggest stage. I got an opportunity to closely observe them and how they prepare for matches, what they eat, how they keep themselves physically fit, how they handle media/camera. I also got the opportunity to train under the best coaches in the world. So UTT has helped me a lot to improve my game. UTT has also done a good job to popularise table tennis in India.
MK: How do you prepare yourself when things are not going well for you? What do you do to focus on your game?
MT: When things are not going well, I just refresh and restart my mind just take the positives from the match and work on my weak points and stay more motivated.
MK: What do you do in your free time, when not practising or playing the game?
MT: I love to travel in my free time and watch movies or series on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video.