The India international harbours ambition of breaking into the world top 10 in the world rankings.

The 25-year-old rose to stardom after becoming the first Indian woman to secure an individual gold medal in table tennis at the Commonwealth Games 2018. Manika Batra is one of the most promising young athletes in this country and has already provided plenty of evidence proving why she is so highly regarded by her observers.

Manika’s remarkable displays on the international scene has also resulted in her sport receiving increased attention on these shores and has crucially led to a change in the general perception of the sport by the wider audience in this country.

“I have worked very hard and working hard is very important. The tricolor of the Indian flag on my nails motivates me and it is my dream to propel India to the top in the sport of table tennis. I want to improve the stature of table tennis in India. Initially, not many people knew table tennis, many still think of it as a hobby and that there is no career to be had. However, after 2018 mainly, we have changed. The scenario has changed and that table tennis is a sport in which one can carve out a career and we can bring medals for India in the main events,” Manika Batra told host Manish Batavia in the second session of Fit India talks.

Manika first came into the limelight when she bagged a silver medal in the under-21 category at the Chile Open and then performed admirably at the Commonwealth Games 2014. She followed that impressive showing with three medals at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships 2015.

Later, the teenage sensation got three more medals under her belt at the South Asian Games 2016. Unfortunately, she had a forgettable Rio Olympics 2016 as Manika suffered an early exit in the first round of the women’s singles event. However, she made a strong comeback in 2018 and apart from her personal exploits, the superstar even guided the Indian women’s team to a gold medal as they completed a colossal upset by defeating the unconquerable defending champions Singapore.

Soon after, the International Table Tennis Federation awarded her ‘the Breakthrough Star Award’, recognizing her meteoric rise in the game. Manika revealed that she was ecstatic after her victory but knew that her journey had just begun and she couldn’t afford to take her foot off the pedal.

“After the 2018 Commonwealth Games, I received plenty of messages from my followers, who had watched the game; I call them my family really. I was very pampered and was very happy. But I knew that this isn’t the end, I need to do more for my country and the hard work has just begun.”

She continued, “This was just the first medal for my country on such a big level but I still need to work hard, train well, and have started to train better. I still have a lot to achieve like the Olympics, enter the World top 10 ranking, these are my dreams. After my Commonwealth win, I never thought that I have won everything and that this is it. I think no one should forget the reasons why you have achieved something and you need to keep following those methods.”

She also emphasized the importance of visualizing and how it helps her to remain level-headed and focused ahead of the game. Manika remarked, “Visualization is very important. If my mind is a bit disturbed or something, I sit for some time and think of what I want to do, why I am going for practice, and what I want to achieve. This is important for every athlete.”

Furthermore, the table tennis superstar explained why maintaining a strong body language is vital to the outcome of the game as any drop in intensity and aggression can end up costing one the match.  

Manika Batra said, “Yes of course, body language is very important. I had learnt this quite early. I was playing a game in which I was leading but I was a bit down in that game that affected my body language. I was a bit nervous and the opponent can sense that. That is not good. We should always maintain a good body language and not let our opponents sense any kind of nervousness. We should display strength and show that we can come back from any position. I have learnt that I should have an aggressive body language on the court, not off it (laughs).”

Manika is a fierce competitor, extremely energetic, and a lively presence on the court. It turns out that she is a huge fan of Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and watches clips of him playing to get herself into the groove before a game.

“I watch videos of Cristiano Ronaldo and motivational speeches of him. Actually, I love Cristiano Ronaldo and I watch his videos to gain motivation. I listen to some of his motivational speeches to get a ‘kick’ on the court.”

Manika also feels that parents, as well as coaches, have a huge role to play during the formative years of the development of a kid. She believes that emphasis must be placed on teaching the correct technique and that providing a sound foundation as well as additional support is invaluable.

During her childhood, it was clear that she always immensely talented but had to work on other crucial aspects of her game like her fitness to give herself the best possible chance of succeeding at the highest level.

She recalled, “When I was in Delhi, I used to get up at five-thirty in the morning to work on my fitness at the Nehru Park. My legs were quite weak and lean when I was young. I had to make them stronger for my movements like the Chinese and the Europeans who have very strong legs. So I started working on my fitness and I am doing it right now in Pune too in whatever capacity I can. I am tall too so I have to make sure that my back is strong and that is why I do strengthening because I have to bend more. I have to make my back as well as my legs stronger so can I stay longer in that position.”

Lastly, Manika never had imagined that she would represent her nation and always cherishes the opportunity of making her nation proud on the global arena. She still possesses this burning ambition of winning medals for her country and is relentless in her pursuit of glory for herself as well as her nation.

“Of course when I was eight, it was a dream but I had never thought that I would reach this level. In my first International tournament(US Open), which was in the United States of America, I remember, I had won the gold medal in my category and won a silver medal in a higher category. That first experience was very good as I had defeated a higher ranked player.”

“I was happy but like I said, being happy won’t get you anywhere, I knew this was dream, my goal and I had told myself that I had to achieve something. I had to represent India, win something for my country and always in my mind, India is first and I come second. Whenever I go to tournaments now, I remind myself that I haven’t come here for myself but rather to win something for India,” Manika Batra signed off.

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