Top players think twice when they face Indians: Manika Batra - Hindustan Times
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Top players think twice when they face Indians: Manika Batra

By, Bengaluru
May 10, 2024 09:02 PM IST

The Indian table tennis star says working with a sports psychologist has helped her focus and manage pressure better.

Nobody had seen it coming. World No 2 Chinese Wang Manyu could very well have imagined her Round of 32 Saudi Smash match-up against Manika Batra to be a doddle. The Indian sure cleared that right up. In the next, the Indian defeated world No 14 Nina Mittelham. Manika’s run eventually ended in the last eight of the Jeddah tournament. But the 28 year-old is still giddy over what she pulled off this week. It should see her inside the top-24 soon.

Manika Batra picked up one of the biggest wins of her career by beating World No 2 Chinese Wang Manyu(Reuters)
Manika Batra picked up one of the biggest wins of her career by beating World No 2 Chinese Wang Manyu(Reuters)

“The way I look at it, top players from other countries think twice before their matches against Indian players today. Indians in TT are really evolving,” Manika told HT, “To beat a world No 2 and a Chinese especially at a time when their Olympic team is being finalised and they’re going all out on effort, bahut badi baat hai mere liye (it’s a big deal for me).”

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The generation of Indian players before Manika have often spoken of battling fear when facing the Chinese. An imperial, brute force in table tennis, four of the top five female players in the world today are from China.

“Everyone fears Chinese players. We’ve been working really hard to change our mindset. Against Wang I was just telling myself to focus on my strengths and stay mentally strong between points. I was pretty much fighting for every point. If it’s possible, I gave more than my 100 percent.”

Manika's German sparring partner, Kirill Barabanov, sat courtside for the matches. He provided counsel and pep talks, urging her to calm her nerves and stay on her toes between points. During her quarters against world No 5 Hiya Hayata, he would probe, “Why are you giving up? Go fight!” Hayata raised her arms in celebration after the fourth game and Manika shook hands with her. Both funnily didn’t realise it was a best-of-seven affair and the match wasn’t over. “We both forgot,” Manika giggled. “You’re so focused on training that you can often forget about formats.”

Manika is coming off a rough couple of years, which included fighting the federation in court, changing coaches and not having enough singles medals to show for her effort. The Paris Olympics is less than three months away and she's hoping to draw on the lessons from three years ago.

“Tokyo Olympics taught me the importance of handling pressure. Working with a sports psychologist has helped me both manage pressure better and develop more focus. I’m also building on my adaptability.,” she said, “With my current coach (Aman Baglu), I share a certain comfort level. I can tell him everything that’s going on in my mind and he plans my training sessions accordingly.”

At the moment, Manika is living the infinity tattoo on her left arm.

She laughs at the mention. “Endless possibilities.”

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