"The thrill of victory is what inspires me" — rising junior paddler Sandika Bhattacharjee
For West Bengal's Sandika Bhattacharjee, the recent triple medal win for her at the South Asian Table Tennis Championships is just the start of a promising table tennis career, who idolises Sathiyan Gnanasekaran's style.
The pressure of being a sportsperson while still in school is often ignored with sports continuously being dismissed as a pastime by many. Indian athletes have borne the brunt of balancing their studies with their sports careers and many have often fallen by the wayside.
Hailing from a prime hub of table tennis, West Bengal's Sandika Bhattacharjee is one such budding sportswoman who has managed to balance her interests in table tennis with her academics.
She is a national level paddler and recently won two gold medals and a bronze at the South Asian Jr. & Cadet Championships 2022. Competing in just her third international event, she spoke to The Bridge about what it is like for a young table tennis player to train, compete and rise up the ranks while juggling academic desires.
Sandika's interest in table tennis began by chance when she was on a family vacation in Puri, Odisha and saw her best friend play the sport. Her father Saikat Bhattacharjee is a national footballer and always wanted her to pick up some form of physical activity when she was young. It was this tryst of destiny coupled with a few instances of her own fate which led to an enduring partnership with table tennis for Sandika.
"One day he told me to start playing table tennis and I actually felt good. My coaching began thereafter with the help of supportive coaches and family," the ninth-standard student of St. Stephen's School, Kolkata mentioned.
Coming from a family of sportspersons, Sandika has realised the benefits that playing a sport can bring to a person early on. Her dream is to represent India at the World Championships and win at least a couple of medals for the country.
Victory for her is as important as participating in any tournament and this is one aspect that drives her to succeed.
"I love winning accolades and the thrill of victory has kept me going ever since I picked up the table tennis racquet," she mentioned, revealing how she would also be a regular topper in her academics and loves her fair share of English literature.
She began playing table tennis at the age of 11 and has since kept up with the sport due to her passion and willingness to succeed at the highest level.
The influence of Manika Batra & Co.
Sandika credits the rise in the pan-Indian interest witnessed in table tennis to the senior team's performance in recent years.
"I like Wong Chun-Ting from China and model a lot of my playing style on him. Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is another player who I look up to especially based on the contributions he has made to the Indian team."
She also mentions the importance of having players like Manika Batra, Sharath Kamal, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Ayhika Mukherjee and others as guides and mentors along with role models for their achievements.
Currently training under Souvik Roy, she recognises the intense worldwide competition in table tennis. "Indians need to improve their fitness and work on it for the long run. Without it, there is no chance of reaching the level of China and Japan."
Sandika also understands the importance of all-round development of the body and does not discount the need to focus on all aspects of athlete development.
Having just come off a stellar victory at the South Asian Jr. & Cadet Championships 2022, Sandika aims to build on the momentum to reap the benefits of her hard work in the long run. With the National Championships coming up soon, her focus will be to win the gold medal in her age category.
Her plans are both for the short and long term with the priority being her consistency, focus and hard work. With these three guiding factors, Sandika hopes to be the best version of a professional table tennis player in the coming years.