We had a chance to catch up with India’s rising sports sensation — Manika Batra — on the sidelines of an event organised by Herbalife Nutrition. The 23-year-old came to the limelight after bagging four medals (2 golds, one silver, and one Bronze) at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Another incredible feat of hers is winning a Bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games. These were two historical occasions as she became the first Indian woman to win an individual gold at the CWG and then a Bronze (in Mixed Doubles along with Achanta Sharath) at the Asiad.
Manika answered all the questions put to her gracefully and with utmost honesty. The Table Tennis star, who has also been nominated for the Arjuna Award this year, shares, “It would have been great if my coach Sandeep Sir — who has been with me since childhood — was also nominated for the Dronacharya Award but I still respect the decision of the committee. Every player wants that their coach is nominated for such a prestigious honour. I will continue working hard and hope to win many more medals so that one day he wins the accolade which he truly deserves.”
This remark of Manika sheds light on the imbalance between the number of Arjuna Award winners and the Dronacharya Award winners. While the former is given to 15-25 outstanding sportspersons, the latter is given to only 5-10. This is surprising as behind every athletes’ success is an equal amount of effort, if not more, put in by their respective coaches.
An interesting story is when Manika was out for the World Championships and her coach Sandeep was not with her. Her foreign coach used to call Sandeep back home, who was watching the matches on TV, and ask him for the tips to share with Manika. Such is the level of understanding between Manika and Sandeep that the two are inseparable. The 23-year-old blindly follows what her coach has to say as he knows her game best and makes changes accordingly. The next thing the two will be working on is the speed of her forehand smashes.
Manika has got confident after winning medals at the Asiad and CWG, however, she had a setback recently when she suffered a first-round defeat to 18-year-old Anannya Basak at the National Ranking Tournament. “I think it is a part of life. Sometimes you win sometimes you lose. I feel I did not have sufficient time to train for the National Ranking Tournament. Hence, it took me time to get settled and get used to the conditions but Anannya also played exceptionally well, and it was good to see so many young players performing well at the event.”
“They will motivate us to keep pushing ourselves harder and harder,” the Delhi girl shared her feelings on the setback.
The top-ranked Indian player Manika took this loss in her stride and felt that the next generation of young paddlers is ‘promising’
We also played a small rapid fire with Manika. Here are the excerpts.
Q. Who is your favourite doubles partner?
Manika: Mouma Das
Q. Who is your role model in Table Tennis and in sports in general?
Manika: In general, it would have to be Sachin Tendulkar hands down. In Table Tennis, it would be Ding Ning — the Chinese player.
Q. Which is your most memorable match?
Manika: My most memorable win would be against the Wolrd Number 4 Tianwei Feng to advance to the final match in Singles at CWG,” said an ecstatic Manika
Q. 7-8 hours of training every day plus Media events would certainly be taxing. How do you like to destress?
Manika responded with a grin: Like any other girl, I just love shopping, especially with my mother. I even enjoy nail-art and dancing to relax. Doing these things help me to regroup so that I am ready to get back to the grind.
Q. What is your cheat meal?
Manika says with childlike innocence: “I try and maintain a very balanced diet like any other athlete. However, one thing I can not resist is Paneer ki subzi (Cottage cheese dish) made my mother. It is my cheat meal.”
Q. What are your long-term goals?
“My main aim right now is to win an Olympic medal and be in the Top 30 in World rankings. I promise to work hard for the Olympics and try my best to win there as well,” said the golden girl, with her voice reflecting the determination and a strong resolution.
Table Tennis is a sport which is dominated by Chinese players. However, times are changing fast, and Manika is optimistic when she is playing against them.
“It is always in the back of the mind that we can not defeat the Chinese as they are too strong. However, the reality is that they are also players and we are also players. Both are there to win the game,” she says
“Whoever performs better on the given day and puts in the hours in training will emerge on top. Hence, we can beat them. We just need to play with a positive mindset. Not only me, but other Indians are also performing well in the International circuit. The fear against a Chinese is certainly being eliminated slowly, and this is what I would like all Indians to adopt,” says the Delhi-based paddler, prompting her compatriots to get rid of the mental block against Chinese players.
Manika is fond of Herbalife’s protein shakes and never misses them after a training session. Herbalife has an extensive range of nutrition, weight-management products and is known to partner with India’s most prominent athletes as well as global icons such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Virat Kohli, veteran boxer MC Mary Kom, badminton star Saina Nehwal are some of the Indian stars already associated with the brand and Manika becomes the latest to sign a sponsorship deal with them.
The popularity of Table Tennis has increased immensely in India, with grand tournaments like Ultimate Table Tennis being organised. UTT sees the some of the World’s top-ranked foreign players, and it is a great learning opportunity for the Indian youngsters to get to play them. Golden girl Manika was also part of the Delhi based franchise — Dabang Smashers TTC — which lifted the trophy in the 2nd season.
Currently ranked 56, the Manika has bigger dreams for the future. She also accepts modestly there is a lot of room for improvement, and the journey has just begun. It is excellent to see Manika receiving the country’s second highest sporting honour at such a young age.
If she keeps her head down and focusses on training as she has been, it would not be surprising to see her win an Olympic medal and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna as well.