With Paris in mind, Manika Batra seeks physical and mental peak - Hindustan Times
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With Paris in mind, Manika Batra seeks physical and mental peak

ByRutvick Mehta
Mar 04, 2024 08:09 PM IST

The Indian paddler was at her positive best at the World Team TT Championships and she will look to do the same at the Olympics.

Manika Batra brings up the match against Chen Szu-Yu. From last month’s World Team Table Tennis Championships where a couple of Indians beat the world's top two players and from where both Indian table tennis teams secured a quota for the Paris Olympics (made official on Monday), it wasn’t quite a result that stood out.

Manika Batra in action. (Reuters)
Manika Batra in action. (Reuters)

Personally too, Manika has tasted greater victories and defeated players ranked higher than the world No. 41 from Chinese Taipei. Yet, there was something about that particular contest that she remains pleased about.

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“If you see that match against Chen, it was extremely close. But I was fighting for every point — whether I was leading or trailing or a game up or down. That mindset, you need for every point," she said.

India's No. 1 paddler won that match 3-2, finding herself two games to one down after pocketing the first one. In the deciding game, Manika trailed for a large part yet kept coming back before nudging ahead eventually. It wasn’t Manika at her fluent and frightening best, which can be quite a handful for any player. It was Manika who still found a way to remain positive, composed and get across the line.

As she builds up for the Paris Games where she is preparing for a hectic workload of turning up for the team, singles and mixed doubles events, she’d hope to bring out that version of herself more often.

On her day and with her game, the 36th-ranked Manika can fly; the players she has taken down over the last couple of years include Hina Hayata (world No. 5), Chen Xingtong (No. 6), Cheng I-Ching (No. 9) and Joo Cheonhui (No. 16), to name a few big scalps. But on the days when she can’t quite take off in the same fashion, finding the gear to scrape through and get the job done is something she believes she is getting better at. Kirill Barabanov, her Belarussian sparring partner, has played a role in that.

“At times, it happens during the match itself that it comes to your m ind (that it’s perhaps not your day). But my sparring partner Kirill always tells me that if you're 8-0 down, you have to believe that you can make it 8-8 and even 10-8. You have to drill that into your mind. And that mindset and confidence has been helping me from the last few years — that I can turn the match around at any point and win against any player," Manika said.

More than her skill training though, Manika said she would put greater emphasis on her physical training over the next few months leading up to the Olympics. With the women’s team making the cut and India’s top-ranked paddler expected to take one of the two spots in the singles event while also being the mix for the mixed doubles with G Sathiyan (they are ranked No. 11), there will be a lot on Manika’s plate in Paris.

“I will focus more on my physical training, because if I'm playing team, singles and mixed doubles, I have to be physically up for it, build that kind of stamina and recover well and quickly," she said. “I've realised that physical and mental is equally important. You practicing for things is one thing, but to bring that into a match, you need self-confidence and calmness in your mind. I will keep the skill training the same — what has worked for me.”

That’s not to say that Manika isn't on the lookout for improving and developing her game. When she burst onto the scene, her much-famed pimpled rubber was the talk of the town and a weapon that flummoxed opponents. Over the years as players started figuring it out better, it has compelled Manika to polish other aspects of her game; for instance, she has worked on her attacking forehand play of late.

“Nowadays, people are trying to understand it (pimpled rubber) and are able to play against this rubber. So, I am focussing on how I can improve on that aspect itself, and what changes I can bring in my game so that the player continues to find it difficult to adjust,” she said.

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