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With the Olympic fever heating up, the country's athletes look set to challenge the world. While the countdown for the sporting extravaganza has already set itself in motion, India's leading table tennis star Manika Batra isn't one to let the thought of the ticking clock seep into her head and add further pressure. Instead, the 24-year-old Delhi native is targeting a singles medal at the 2024 Olympics.
The star paddler scripted history last year by adding four medals to her name at the Commonwealth Games, including a singles gold. Batra, along with her male counterpart Sharath Kamal showcased glimpses of her prowess on court by winning a mixed doubles bronze, thereby putting an end to India's 60-year medal drought. And this time around too, Batra is approaching her practice in the right earnest with Kamal to earn a qualifying spot in the mixed doubles draw ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
There has been much deliberation and suspense over the appointment of Canadian based Dejan Papic to coach the Indian table tennis team. Papic accepted a one-year offer from the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), and his contract is till the end of the Olympics, for now. Much to their dismay, the Indian paddlers have been training without a coach for almost a year now; Batra, however, feels Papic's arrival will be good for the team. "Our previous coach, he was aware of the game and playing style of several Indian players. With the arrival of the new coach, it will be difficult for him (Papic) as well as for us, because it will take him a while to understand our playing style. Not very long, but it will take him some time to settle down (in this system)," she added. Batra’s decision to part ways with her long-time coach Sandeep Gupta has caused those in the table tennis circles to raise eyebrows. "I changed the coach because I needed something new in my game. I have improved a lot. My forehand has improved. I have beaten Korean and Chinese players, so I am quite happy with my training in Pune", said the Commonwealth gold medallist. Talking about the preparation, Batra said she is keen to work on introducing variations in her style of play.
"All the paddlers are working hard for the Olympics and if we play our best and are lucky, we will win a medal. But I don't want to put pressure on myself for 2020, I am aiming for a singles medal in 2024 Games."
With the Olympic event less than a year to go, Kamal and Batra face an uphill task to qualify for the mixed doubles draw in Tokyo.
"I am working on changing my game because internationally players are taking note, they are studying my game. Everyone used to play on my forehand because they knew that wasn't strong so I have worked on that. I have worked on it a lot now. I turn and switch and finish from the forehand. I have also been working on my rallies."