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"It's okay, it's not over" – How Manika Batra went from a lean patch to career-high World Rank

Manika Batra has one motto that keeps her going, both in Table Tennis and in life. 'I always feel it is not yet over for me', she says.

Its okay, its not over – How Manika Batra went from a lean patch to career-high World Rank

Abhijit Nair

Updated: 19 Jun 2023 10:57 AM GMT

After enduring a tough season with a forgettable performance at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the National Games which followed, ace Indian paddler Manika Batra stunned the world with a bronze medal-winning effort at the Asian Cup last year.

Considered to be one of the toughest tournaments in the world of table tennis, the Asian Cup sees participation from some of the strongest players in the world.

This performance also saw her rise to a career-best world ranking of 35 in the first ITTF World Ranking for the year 2023 released on Tuesday. This is the highest rank an Indian woman has ever achieved in women's singles in this sport.

"It was a very tough tournament. To beat players ranked in the top 10-20 in the world is not easy. I was very confident and had a positive mindset throughout the competition. Very happy and proud of what I was able to pull off," Manika Batra told The Bridge.

The 27-year-old revealed that it took her some time to come to terms with what she had managed to accomplish during the continental event in November.

"I had never won a medal at such a level before. I was playing like a fighter throughout. After the bronze medal match, it took a bit of time for the victory to sink in. But after I went out of the court, I was back to normal," she laughed.

The Delhi lass, however, was quick to point that out her best is yet to come.

"I was back to the state where I was like abhi kuch nahi hua hai, abhi toh aur bhi jeetne hai India ke liye (I have not achieved anything yet, there is a lot more left to win for India)," she declared.

"It's okay, it is not over"

The period before the Asian Cup was tough for Manika Batra. It was a year of some mediocre performances, before she managed to turn it around in Bangkok.

"I always feel it is not yet over for me. That has helped me to keep going in life and sport," she said.

"When results were not going my way, I kept telling myself that it is okay and that it is not over. I kept positively affirming that I just need to enjoy the game like I did when I was a kid," she added.

Batra maintained that she was working as hard as ever during that period, but things were just not going her way during matches.

"I was working with the same intensity during this period. But at times it takes time for the process to set in. I was training hard and working out well, but nothing was translating into results," she said.

"It was frustrating, but you need to understand an athlete's life goes through such ups and downs. You just cannot keep winning all the time, it is about how you handle the losses."

The world number 35 feels she has managed to put the hard times behind her with the Asian Cup performance.

"You will lose matches at times. It might get difficult to get out of that loop. But you just need to keep going and not give up. I feel I have managed to overcome my bad phase," she said.

"Criticism brings out the best in me"

No athlete in the world can escape criticism from fans, experts, or pundits in this era of social media. Manika Batra has always known this, but she was subject to it more than ever before in 2022.

"To be honest, I do not always pay heed to it. At times you do stumble upon what people are writing or saying, but criticism has always brought out the best in me. I try to take the positives out of it," she said on how she handles criticism.

"Much like winning or losing, this will also keep happening. It is never going to be a smooth ride. You will have well-wishers who want you to do well and see you grow, and there will also be people who will criticise you for not doing well," she added.

The paddler, however, believes that athletes need critics sometimes to push themselves to the next level.

"It is okay to criticise, but you need to understand what players are going through as well. Do not judge any athlete by just one or two tournaments, and if you are criticising be the first one to cheer as well when we achieve something for the country," she said.

"Family matters"

No matter what you are going through in life, you need someone to lean back on to help you improve your perspective; to let you know you are in it together. For Manika Batra, it was her family.

"My journey in table tennis would be incomplete without them. My mother, brother, sisters, and even my grandparents – they were always there. They have rallied around me since my childhood," she said.

"You need someone to fall back on. Not only when you are sad and things are not going your way, but also when you are winning. Having family around matters and I am grateful to God that they were there for me," Batra said with a wide grin.

"Table Tennis is growing in India"

Table Tennis has grown by leaps and bounds in India over the past few years. The country has produced some very talented players, some of whom are still playing in the age-group circuit.

"I am very happy with the progress table tennis has made in India especially after 2018. We have some very talented young players coming up. Players like Diya Chitale and Sreeja Akula have been doing well at the highest level," Batra said.

But it is not just in the court that India is rising as a force in Table Tennis, believes Manika Batra. The popularity of the sport among the masses has increased too, she says.

"Recently, I was at the airport when a man in his 50s walked up to me. He said people think table tennis is just a recreational game, but he said he had realised it is not. He said most play table tennis because doctors advice to play, kyuki kisi ka sugar high hai, kisi ka kuch aur health issue hai (because someone has high sugar, someone has some other health issue)," Batra narrated.

"I think people are realising table tennis is not an easy sport, they are willing to accept it and enjoy it. The mindset of society is clearly changing and I could not be happier because it was not very positive when I started," she signed off.

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