Ahead of the Asian Games, star paddler Manika Batra is working on a few new skills to bamboozle her rivals as she feels her game with the long-pimpled backhand is no longer a threat for her opponents.
Manika is laying equal stress on improving her fitness as she is lacking “a little bit” on that front. The 18th Asian Games in Jakarta begins from August 18. Indian table tennis players will have a camp ahead of the Games at the venue.
“They (opponents) know my game now. I have long pimples on my backhand… so I guess they will be reading and analysing my game.
“I have to change some things that will confuse and surprise them. I am working on that,” Commonwealth Games (CWG) star Manika, 23, told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) here.
Manika became a sensation as she led the Indian women’s team to their first-ever gold medal against four-time defending champion Singapore in the CWG in Gold Coast earlier this year. On top of that, she won a gold (another first) in the women’s singles, a silver medal in women’s doubles and a bronze in mixed doubles.
“I am working on my fitness. I have to work more on my fitness as I feel I am lacking a bit on that aspect. I need to match the competitors in the Asian Games and there fitness will play a part. I need to be quicker,” said Manika.
At the heart of Manika’s success in the CWG was the long pimples on the backhand which came to the fore against three-time Olympic medallist and World No. 4 Tianwei Feng of Singapore in the first singles rubber of the table tennis women’s team event gold medal match. Manika pulled off the biggest win of her career to set India on the path to a historic maiden team gold.
Manika’s racquet was coated with the long pimpled rubber that’s built for defence and absorbs the spin and turns it around — backspin to topspin, sidespin to flat. As a result, it sucks any pace off the ball and drops it close to the net.
“If you compare the Asian Games and CWG, it’s totally different. Like there are no Chinese (players) in the CWG,” Manika said, reasoning why she needs to make alterations to her game.
“So I think this will be tough for us, but we will give our best. We are working hard. We want to win.”
Is the new-found attention adding extra pressure?
“I always wanted table tennis to become popular. I am not taking this as extra pressure… if I take pressure, it will affect my game. We are getting recognised like badminton players and cricketers in India. So I think table tennis is also going that way,” Delhi-girl Manika said.
In the UTT, India’s first-ever professional table tennis league, Manika is representing Dabang Smashers this time. Asked how the league is helping shape up for pro tours, Manika said: “UTT has helped me and other players as well. We can play with higher-ranked players here and then when we go to pro tours, it becomes more familiar.
“The UTT is also helping younger players who are coming up. They are getting to practise with experienced players from across the globe.”