After CWG low, Batra eyes a revival
The world no 45 from India is still good at what she does but her opponents have caught up.
It has been a turbulent year for Manika Batra. First, she occupied the news space for a highly publicised court case against the national coach and the table tennis federation, and then came her disappointing showing at the Commonwealth Games. For someone who emerged as a star at the 2018 CWG with four medals, returning empty handed from Birmingham last month was quite a fall.
Manika admits her performance at CWG has led her to work on different aspects of her game. The next few weeks will be crucial for the paddler as she tests herself in the National Games in Surat. There will be no dearth of competition with the likes of Sreeja Akula, who is brimming with confidence following her CWG exploits, Diya Chitale, Reeth Rishya, Ayhika Mukherjee among other top talents participating in the National Games taking place after seven years.
Manika will then shift focus to the World Team Championships in Chengdu, China from September 30. The two tournaments will be important in assessing where her game stands.
“I was upset after the CWG, but I always tell myself that this is not the end. I came back to India and started training. I have worked on my fitness, focused on my mental strength which I think is really important when you play big tournaments for your country. I beat some good players before CWG,” she said during a SAI interaction ahead of the individual TT competition at the National Games.
“I spoke to my coach (Chris Adrian Pfeiffer) and worked on finer aspects of my game, my technique. As an athlete you must forget the past and move ahead. I think I am mentally and physically prepared for the two back-to-back tournaments,” she said.
Manika rose to prominence with her different style of play. Her use of long-pimpled rubber was much discussed post her 2018 CWG exploits.
The long-pimpled rubber on her bat – one that imparts an opposite spin to the ball on return – was used to great effect by Manika as a newcomer in the international arena. In Glasgow four years ago, Manika had single-handedly brought about Singapore’s downfall -- winning gold in both individual and team events.
While Manika is still good at what she does, her opponents have caught up. The Singapore team, for instance, sparred with Japanese players, who have a similar style, ahead of the CWG to thwart Manika’s game in Birmingham. It gave Singapore the desired success. Manika lost to Zeng Jian of Singapore in straight games in the quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old, however, is not thinking of changing her rubber. “It is my game. If I must do something extra, I will find my way around it,” said Manika, who is the world No. 45 currently.
National coach S Raman feels Manika needs to cope better against left-handed players. “Luckily her personal coach and I are left handers, so we can tell her. She can use a little bit more of a better-quality pendulum serve, do some orientation to tackle left- handed players.
“If you hit too much to the left handers’ backhand, it is easy pickings for them. You must hit their backhand with more spin so that they cannot just run the ball through easily, or you should hit harder on their forehand or middle. Against right-handed players, she is quite competent across the board,” said the former international.
However, former international Neha Aggarwal, who had a similar style to Manika, believes the latter needs to add depth to her game.
“It is creditable that she has maintained her level since 2018. She did well at the Tokyo Olympics. The thing with long pimpled rubber is when someone knows how to play against it; it is no longer an advantage. So, you have to constantly evolve, have a solid forehand, excellent serves to attack and finish the rally. Manika has to be stronger with her forehand attack.”