Indian table tennis star Manika Batra working on her forehand to make it more attacking

Updated: Aug 10, 2019, 07:47 IST | Ashwin Ferro

India table tennis star Manika Batra, who's had a ranking slip from 56 to 76, tells mid-day that she's working on making her forehand more attacking as international opponents have been exploiting that weakness.

Indian table tennis star Manika Batra working on her forehand to make it more attacking
Manika Batra

Most top athletes are hesitant to dwell on their weakness. Not Manika Batra.

India's table tennis champ has no qualms in admitting that she needs to, and is currently, working hard on improving her forehand, if she has to keep pushing to maintain her position in the forefront of not just Indian but possibly Asian and eventually world table tennis. "I am working on my forehand. From my international experience, I have noticed that most of the girls have been playing more on my forehand because they find it tough to get points off my backhand," Batra, 24, tells mid-day, a day after her Ultimate Table Tennis franchise RP-SG was prematurely ousted following a defeat to the Chennai Lions.

Batra's rise in the sport has been meteoric. She became a sensation with her four-medal haul (gold in singles, gold in women's team, silver in women's doubles, bronze in mixed doubles) at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia. Thereafter, her mixed doubles bronze with veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia was another career highlight.

Good performance

She's had a couple of fairly reasonable shows abroad this year too, where got through the preliminaries at the Korean Open and then topped her group with two wins in the league stage at the Australian Open. It's been a mini slide thereafter though. She suffered a string of defeats at the UTT recently and her ITTF ranking has dropped from 56 to 76. She feels this is only the start of a fight back, just like a rally in a table tennis match. "I believe in one thing. You never give up. Victory or defeat, whatever happens, the next morning you have to come back and work hard all over again. I don't focus too much on rankings because if I did, then I wouldn't have been able to beat Singapore's World No. 4 Feng Tianwei [in the semis] before winning my CWG singles gold," says the hardworking paddler, who trains for nearly seven hours a day. "In the morning I practise from 7:30 till 10:30am. This is followed by some fitness drills. I rest a bit and do some meditation. I return to train from 4 to 7pm and hit the gym for about an hour thereafter," she explains.

In her quest for glory, Batra has moved out of her comfort zone at home in Delhi to train in Pune this year. "In Pune, I practice with a series of partners, many of whom are boys from the junior India teams. I'm working on my forehand rallying. I need to make my forehand more attacking. It's a work in progress but the key is to maintain my backhand, which is my strength, and simultaneously build on the forehand improvement," she explains.

Novelty factor no more

Batra's game is unique given she's one of the rare paddlers to use a pimpled surface on one side of her racquet. She also constantly flips her racquet mid-point, catching opponents off-guard. But many have figured her out now. "The Chinese and Japanese players and their coaches have learnt my game now and work out different things against me. I've also begun to expect changes every time I face a foreigner. I'm working on getting better at what I've been doing rather than changing things. So, I'll still use my pimpled racquet as it helps in defence and also flip the racquet on and off but will need more precision," she says.

The conversation veers back to her forehand. "This is a pre-Olympic year, so it's very crucial. I will be playing a few tournaments before that and hope to do well. My forehand improvement work has been good. The shots are coming off well and that has given me a lot of confidence in my overall game. I will continue to do well for India," Batra signs off.

Also read: Manika Batra: These are a few of my favourite things!

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