By Debayan Mukherjee
Kolkata– Fresh from her bronze win in the doubles category of the Czech Open — a first for any Indian table tennis player at an ITTF World Tour (Major) — Manika Batra has now set her eyes on breaking into the world’s top 100.
“I have to break into the top 100 in the World rankings. That is my immediate goal,” Batra told IANS in an interview.
The 21-year-old Delhi girl has shown steady progress since qualifying for the Rio Olympics, where she was the only paddler to put up some fight despite falling at the first hurdle.
Belying high pre-Games hopes, the likes of veterans A. Sharath Kamal, Mouma Das and the hugely talented Soumyajit Ghosh had exited without a whimper in their first-round engagements.
Reigning national champion Batra, in contrast, gave a fright to her 60th-ranked Polish rival Katarzyna Franc-Grzybowska before finishing on the wrong side of a 2-4 scoreline in her maiden appearance at the quadrennial extravaganza.
Batra picked up from there. The tall paddler tagged up with Das to reach the semi-final of the Czech Open. Before this, the duo had reached the quarter-finals of the Bulgarian Open.
Batra and Das beat top seeds Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato in the Czech Open pre-quarterfinal, following it up with a superlative show against Germany’s Chantal Mantz and Yuan Wan in the last eight. But they lost steam in the semis, going down to Russia’s Polina Mikhailova and Maria Dolgikh.
“My rankings have improved after good performances in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. I want to build on (that) and not let go,” she added.
Batra is placed at No.113, a jump of 14 places from her previous ranking of 127. Das, on the other hand, has climbed five rungs to 145. Batra has also moved up to 25 from 31 in the U-21 Girls’ section.
Batra, who won a gold medal as part of the Indian women’s team at the 2016 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Malaysia, said she now wants to beat her Japanese counterparts.
“I have come close to beating Japanese players very often. I want to work on my game and beat them now. There are aspects of my game I am working on now after picking up pieces from Rio and these two Opens. You will see that on the table,” she said confidently.
On her partnership with veteran Das, she said: “It’s amazing. This is the first time we are playing together and we won the bronze. I can hope for good things to come.
“There is less focus on doubles. We need to change that. There are chances of winning medals in doubles also.”
The Rio Olympics were a learning curve for Batra. “I am happy with my performance. There was a lot of pressure. I kept on telling myself ‘give your best’ and I am happy I could do that. From the Olympics I have learnt not to lose confidence. There is a lot you pick up from big events such as this.”
Three girls — P.V. Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar — lit up India’s campaign at the Olympics this time. While shuttler Sindhu bagged a silver, wrestler Sakshi Malik got a bronze, and gymnast Karmakar came fourth.
Batra feels this show of “girl power” will change the mindsets of Indian parents from general apathy to sending their girls into sports to encouraging their children.
“I hope more girls come into the sport and the taboo is broken. Parents now should send their children more into sport and encourage them.” (IANS)