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Table Tennis

Manika Batra starting to play her best Table Tennis now: Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

Manika Batra's phenomenal run at the Asian Cup, where she became the first ever Indian woman to win a medal, gives her mixed doubles partner G Sathiyan confidence that the Olympic dream is not far away.

Manika Batra starting to play her best Table Tennis now: Sathiyan Gnanasekaran
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Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran are ranked 5 in the world as a mixed doubles pair. (ITTF)

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 2022-11-21T09:00:30+05:30

Manika Batra's Asian Cup medal has reinforced India's position as a global force in table tennis, feels her mixed doubles partner Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. He also feels this win indicates that a first ever Olympic medal in TT for India is now within reach.

Having watched Manika beat some of the best players in the world on way to a bronze medal - the first ever won by an Indian woman in the 39-year history of this tournament - in Thailand on Saturday, Sathiyan said what was even more heartening was the way she played.

"She was very, very aggressive. It was the best I have seen her play. She's always had the potential to beat the top players in the world, and I think she is now starting to play at her best," he said.

Manika, ranked 44 in the world, beat world number 6 and three-time Asian Champion Hina Hayata of Japan in the bronze medal bout on Saturday. Earlier in the event, she beat world number 7 Chen Xingtong of China to make it to the quarterfinals. This makes her the first Indian to beat two top 10 players in the same competition.

"I have no words to describe how significant this medal is. To win a medal in a tournament which has the top players in the world, beating so many top 10 players on the way - this will inspire all of us in the team. This shows us how India is on the rise and even the Chinese and Japanese are beatable," said Sathiyan.

The Asian Cup has been dominated by China - who had 125 medals to show in the 39-year history of this event compared to India's two before this year. Sathiyan himself finished sixth at this event in 2019, which was the furthest an Indian had reached in this tournament in this century before Manika's giant-killing run last week.

While Manika Batra opted to take a short break after her bronze medal, Sathiyan is already in France, playing for top-tier French Pro A league club Jura Morez Tennis de Table to get acclimatized to the conditions for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Earlier in November, the mixed doubles pair of Manika and Sathiyan created history in terms of rankings by becoming the first ever Indian pair to get into the world's top five. They are probably the best bet India have of a first ever Olympics medal in Table Tennis in Paris 2024.

"The next two years are going to be crucial. Given that Manika is playing at her best, I think we can do wonders. We have the World Championships coming up, then the Asian Games and finally the Paris Olympics," said Sathiyan.

Sathiyan also added that this is just the latest stage of the rapid rise Indian table tennis has enjoyed in the last five years.

"Indian table tennis has been on the rise since 2017/18. I won my second Pro Tour title, Manika put up a great show in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Not just that, even the juniors are stepping up - Sreeja Akula did very well at the CWG this year. Sharath (Kamal) anna has of course been doing this for a decade and more. The rise has been phenomenal. An Olympic medal is not far away," said Sathiyan.

"India is seen as a huge force across the globe - in Europe as well as in Asian countries. We are in the top nations now, going toe-to-toe with them," he added.

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