Manika Batra: 'I still have a long way to go'

Not many would know that the mixed doubles pair of Manika Batra and Sharath Kamal practised for less than 10 hours on their way to historic bronze medal at the 18th Asian Games.

Manika Batra with her coach Sandeep Gupta shows the Asian Games bronze medal she claimed with Sharath Kamal in the mixed doubles event.   -  RAKESH RAO

Among the number of firsts for India in the just-concluded Asian Games, the mixed doubles bronze medal for Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra clearly stands out. But not many are aware that the duo practised for less than 10 hours on their way to historic medal for the country.

“Sharath Bhaiya and I hardly practiced together for mixed doubles in the days leading to the Games. In all, we had about four sessions of about 90 minutes each. But playing with him was such a huge learning experience. His inputs are invaluable,” said Manika as she raved the guidance of her senior partner.

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Manika, the most valuable Indian player in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year by virtue of winning four medals, including two golds, said, “Winning back-to-back matches after trailing against the two Korean pairs was really tough. I am glad I could play my part.

"Since Sharath Bhaiya and I are tall players, we both prefer to play away from the table. Therefore, it was important for us to make the most of the opportunities. Since my style of play involves more of blocking and Sharath Bhaiya’s game revolves around his powerful returns, I had to make sure my returns are precise enough to bring about chances for Sharath Bhaiya to finish the point.”

JUST THE BEGINNING

After becoming the first Indian woman to win the Commowealth Games title and now an Asian Games medal, Manika says, “I love all the attention I am getting because of these firsts. These results have given me the confidence on going forward. I know well that I still have a long way to go. This is just the beginning.”

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Sandeep Gupta, Manika’s coach for the past 15 years, hailed the tenacity of the 23-year-old to deal with pressure situations. “At the crucial junctures of the quarterfinal against the Korean pair, Manika won at least four to six points against a world class male player. Those points made the difference.”

Throwing light on the heady days between the Commonwealth Games and the preparations for the Asian Games, Sandeep said: “I think the drubbing Manika received in the World championship served as a timely wake-up call. She realised she had plenty of work to do ahead of the Asian Games. We returned to training with a clean slate. The success of Gold Coast was pushed to the background. The week’s training in Chengdu (China) was also crucial. For a day, the Indians trained with the official Chinese team. Here, Manika showed some encouraging results. As a result, I would say, the bitter experience of the World championship made Manika hungry again and that showed in the Asian Games.”