Rising star

S.RAMBABU

Known for his ominous backhand, the bespectacled Manav Thakkar is currently ranked No. 1 in both sub-junior and junior categories and is placed ninth in the youth section, writes J. R. Shridharan.

He is all bones and no flesh. At the table he pounces on to the fast-approaching ball like a panther, putting it across effortlessly. This precocious 14-year-old paddler is already tipped as champion material in table tennis.

Meet Surat-born Manav Thakkar, a trainee at the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy in Ajmer, who dominated the 76th sub-junior National table tennis in Rajahmundry by winning three titles — team championship, singles and doubles. The only blemish was his defeat (1-3) to Delhi’s Partha Virmani in the team championship singles.

Known for his ominous backhand, this bespectacled pint-sized paddler is currently ranked No. 1 in both sub-junior and junior categories and is placed ninth in the youth section. “I want to be part of the Indian team in premier tournaments like Commonwealth, Asian Games and the Olympics,” says the student of Class IX.

Born into a family of physicians, Manav grew up watching his parents play table tennis at home. “We have a table at home and I took a liking to TT at an early age.”

The turning point came in 2012 when the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) held trials to pick youngsters for the PSPB academy in Ajmer. Following his stupendous performance Manav was selected for training under Chinese coach Liu Zhang Feng.

In a residential set up, Manav began training along with 13 others and started finishing on the podium in the national events.

“We have regular leagues among ourselves to hone our skills,” says the teenager, who strongly believes in keeping the ball on the table.

The year 2014 has been fruitful for him as he hogged the limelight not only in the sub-juniors but also in the junior section as well. He had put up a good show in all the ranking tournaments and also in the junior Nationals in Alappuzha. He went to China and Pakistan to play in the cadet fixtures. “The China sojourn was useful as I was able to realise the importance of power. The strokes by the Chinese were packed with power and they endure a difficult lifestyle to achieve the desired goals,” says Manav.

The trips also taught him invaluable lessons on reflexes and handling pressure. “An explosive start is the need of hour in the 11-point format. Speed is the mantra and there is no room for weak strokes.”

Manav now trains under a new Chinese coach Yenwi, who was in Rajahmundry, taking stock of his ward’s performance. “I am new to Yenwi and he is working on my footwork, power and action. He believes that a perfect action is important to achieve success.”

TTFI vice president S. M. Sultan rates Manav high and is proud that the youngster was a product of the system. “The purpose of establishing the academy was to pick up talented youngsters from the country and put them under a foreign coach and prepare them for the premier national tournaments. It is paying off and Manav is an example.”

Sultan, one among the three-member committee formed to tackle the overage menace, cracked the whip on the overage players especially from North Bengal thus paving way for a level-playing field in the Rajahmundry Nationals. “The overage players voluntarily withdrew from the contest as they were afraid of the two-year ban by the Sports Authority of India.”

On forming a national league like the Indian Premier League in cricket, Sultan feels that the proposal is still in the formative stage. “If it (the league) happens, it will be a boon to the players.”