Manika Batra | TT Star Returns With Hushed Steps, While Aiming for the Big Bang

Having reclaimed lost ground after a difficult 2022 season, Manika Batra strives to reach the highest of echelons.

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Four years ago, Manika Batra found herself taking a giant leap, elevating from being the Indian table tennis circuit's poster-girl to the flag-bearer for every woman in this sport, courtesy of five medals – four in the Commonwealth Games, and the other, a rather historic one, in the Asian Games.

Yet, a year ago, she saw the staunchest of supporters turning into the coarsest of critics, following a disappointing outing in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Now, with the Asian Games and Olympics knocking at the door, Manika has found the perfect phase to regain confidence. Having recently beaten players much higher on the WTT rankings, the 28-year-old is maintaining form, and improving on it, whilst representing Bengaluru Smashers in the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) Season 4.

The Quint caught up with Manika to know about the past year, what it has taken for her to reclaim what was lost, and what it will take to conquer history. Here are excerpts from the interview: 


Manika, it is great to see you doing so well recently.

Only recently? (laughs)

We have seen you doing exceedingly well previously as well, but after a slump in 2022, it is good to see you beating great players like Cheng-I-Ching and Adriana Diaz. So, would it be safe to say that Manika Batra has found her mojo back?

As athletes, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. I won’t say that I am back, it depends on how hard I am working. Losing doesn’t mean I am not working hard, winning and losing are just parts of life.

I am happy that I am improving every day. In training and in matches as well, I am trying out new things. I am delighted that I recently beat Cheng-I-Ching. She had beaten me 0-3 in the Macau WTT Champions, and now I’ve beaten her 3-0. So, I am very happy with my performance, but at the same time, I am not satisfied because I have to win many more medals and I have to achieve many more things. I am just waiting for those things to happen.


You have seen the highest of highs – winning four medals in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and then a historic Asian Games medal too. But there have been a few lows as well. A lot was said after you couldn’t win any medal in the 2022 CWG. How difficult was it to deal with this phase?

This is a part of every athlete’s sporting career. It’s not like aap hamesha hi jeetoge, ya hamesha hi haaroge (you’ll either always win, or always lose). I am okay with that (dealing with losses).

I keep in mind that even if I am losing, I have learned something. Especially from the 2022 Commonwealth Games, I learnt a lot of things and I am currently working on them. I just have to focus on what I am doing and what my goal is, irrespective of whatever is happening on the outside.


After what you did in Jakarta five years ago, the Indian fans will be expecting a medal in the Hangzhou Asian Games as well. But given the field is quite strong, what are your realistic expectations?

Why can’t we think of a medal? We have a great team now – in singles, doubles and mixed as well. We need to work together, and of course, our target will be to win medals.

But my main focus is not on medals, but on giving my 200% for every point. I want to do my best for the country against every opposition – be it China, South Korea or the Chinese Taipei.


In the last Asian Games, you had a veteran figure like Mouma Das guiding the team. This time around, you’ll be the eldest player in the female contingent. Does it add responsibilities?

It feels good that I will be leading the team, but I won’t say as the oldest. In our team, everyone has got experience. Diya (Chitale) has played in the CWG, so she knows about the pressure and how to handle it. The same goes for Sreeja (Akula). Ayhika (Mukherjee) and Sutirtha (Mukherjee) are doing amazing in international competitions. We have a great team, with different kinds of rubbers everyone is using. We will give our best to win against good players and bring home a medal.


You and Sathiyan have been doing really well. Some feel that among all categories India will compete in, the chances of a medal are highest in mixed doubles. Do the expectations come with pressure as well?

Of course, medal humesha dimag mein rakh ke hi khelenge (we’ll always focus on winning a medal). But I don’t want to put pressure on either Sathiyan, or myself. We will train hard during whatever time we get before the Asian Games. 

We will need to plan – if I have to go to Chennai or he has to come to Hyderabad. There is no pressure, we will see what happens in the Asian Games, but I think we are really playing well. We lost recently to a good opponent, but the last year was great. I am happy with our combination – I support him and he supports me. There is a good team spirit in our partnership.


You have won the UTT previously, but this time around, it is a new challenge – representing the Bengaluru Smashers owned by the Punit Balan Group. How has the experience been so far?

It has been really great. Punit sir is always there to motivate us, and he does the same in many other sports. I think it’s a great opportunity to be in this team. Kirill (Gerassimenko) and Sanil (Shetty) are doing great, and Natalia (Bajor) is a player who has been amazing in the European Games. Besides that, the coaches and the support staff are also very helpful.


We know Manika Batra prefers the step-by-step approach, but we have two major competitions coming up – Asian Games this year, and then the Olympics next year. Do you already have one eye on those events?

I focus on short-term goals, but of course, the main goal is to win an Olympics medal. I am working very hard for that, but for now, I just want to focus on my next tournaments and training sessions.

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Topics:  Olympics   Table Tennis   Asian Games 

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