GOLD COAST: Every athlete lives for the day when he or she is propelled to stardom, when fame embraces you and fans cajole you. You dream for it and pop comes the day when the world changes forever. You don’t know what hits you.
Manika Batra was in that zone after winning a historic women’s table tennis gold at the Commonwealth Games on Saturday. She was soaking in the glory at the sound stages at the Village Road Show Studios.
It was a pleasant coincidence that Manika’s greatest performance was enacted at these famed studios where movies like Aquaman, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, San Andreas were shot. The World No 58 beat No 50 Mengyu Yu of Singapore 11-7, 11-6, 11-2, 11-7 in the final.
Pursuing a sport like table tennis in India is not easy. It’s lingering in the fringes without much government support. In 2006, her role model Sharath Kamal sparked a small revolution when he won gold in men’s singles and doubles. That kept the sport floating. Manika’s double will help give direction to the sport and change perceptions back home.
At 5 feet 11 inches, Manika is not an ideal table tennis player. However, the height does give her an advantage and helps her switch between backhand and forehand easily. She dropped out of college to pursue her dream.
“I liked the sport since four,” she said. She was inspired by elder brother Sahil and elder sister Anchal. She has an ailing father at home and all her requirements are met by her mother.
The 22-year-old feels her greatest asset is her ability to adapt and be calm. “Actually, I love challenges,” she said, adding that the semifinal victory over Singapore’s World No 4 Feng Tianwei was the high point of her career.
“I was obviously focussed on giving my best. I never thought I was playing a World No 4 and all that. I never thought about the opponent’s world ranking. (I thought) I have to be calm and use my best stroke whenever the opportunity presents itself. I played attacking table tennis in most of my games but I also defended. So it was a mix of both.”
In sports, sometimes games are won through backroom strategies. A lot of pondering went into the game against Feng. Coach Massimo Costantini was expecting Feng to attack her forehand. But Manika managed to fend them off. That put doubts in the mind of her opponent.
“Luckily, Manika was ready for that,” said the coach.
“She made two or three stops. That affected her confidence to play on the forehand. This morning Feng won a large number of points on her forehand. So this time we avoided that.”
With this win, like her role model, Manika too can become a role model.