Tokyo 2020: What went wrong with table tennis? Manika Batra spells out

Indian paddler Batra says her target is to go back and work harder on the mistakes she made in Tokyo.

Manika Batra during her table tennis round 3 match against Austria's Sofia Polcanova in Tokyo on Monday.   -  PTI

A few hours after Manika Batra ended her second Olympic journey by becoming the first Indian female paddler to win two singles rounds at the Games, the 26-year-old opened up on the experience in Tokyo.

How have the last eight days been?

Overall, I would say they went well but not today. If you compare my stint with first Olympics, I am really - of course not satisfied - but happy with my performance over here. My aim is 2024 so I have to train harder once I return. I am really happy with the way I played against the higher-ranked Ukrainian (Margaryta Pesotska, 20th seed and World No. 32) in the second round. I think I gave my best my country and am happy with the way the tournament panned out.

What went wrong in mixed doubles?

They (Lin Yun-ju and Cheng I-Ching of Chinese Taipei) are a real strong opponent. They are World No. 1, were seeded third over here but they are really strong. The boy was just way too fast and had a strong ball. He was attacking relentlessly. We did try and put up our best but (it wasn’t enough).

Can you elaborate on the singles second round against Margaryta Pesotska? How did you do your homework?

She trains a lot with a chopper from Ukraine so she is comfortable facing such rubber. To be honest, I was tense and was holding myself back. By the time I trailed 2-0, I had calmed down, there was no nervousness and then I started targetting her at the centre line first before exploiting the corners. I could trap her with this and tried to attack conservatively. Once I succeeded in getting into longer rallies, I knew it would work for me.

Against Sofia Polcanova, you never looked to be in the game…

I think my game and my mind weren’t on the same page. I was a bit nervous and perhaps epxected too much from myself. Of course you have to aim higher but I think I tried way too hard. I think I was desperate to win rather than enjoying the game. I will blame myself on that. I should have enjoyed myself and taken it point by point. I did have an advantage that she was playing her first match in singles (being seeded 10th, Polcanova received a bye in each of the first two rounds) and I was playing the third round. I should have played freely but she is a consistent and an excellent player. I should have repeated the quest of getting into the rally mode but I tried to finish points way too earlier. That was a mistake, I feel.

Was there a sense of complacency after achieving the primary target of creating an upset?

To be honest, I did feel a bit complacent after returning to the room last night. Having beaten a better player, I did feel that for a while but it didn’t take long to realise it’s not over yet. I was determined to fight and give my best against better players. Come what may, I wanted to give my 100 per cent, so I wouldn’t say I was complacent today. My nature is I get into the next-match mode quickly and let go of the previous match, whether I win or lose.

You were in headlines for all the wrong reasons even before leaving. It started with allegations of Manika having manipulated the system to get travel approval for personal coach Sanmay Paranjape…

Manipulate, I don’t know. I had requested much in advance that I would want my coach to be there but he could not get access to sit behind the table for my matches. But I don’t blame anyone for that. I wish the request was acceded. Our national coach here (Soumyadeep Roy) is Sutirtha’s personal coach, so it helped her. I think if my personal coach could also sit for my matches, it would have helped a lot. Though he was advising me from the gallery, you need someone sitting behind to be strong. We can’t do anything about it and pray that it’s not repeated in future.

There have also been murmurs of what was the use of your personal coach travelling to Tokyo if he didn’t have access to competition area…

To be match-ready, it’s critical to have the coach present with you. He trained with me, we played together, did plenty of multi-ball sessions, devised strategies and all those things made a lot of difference during my matches. He continued to advise and strategise before every match. Sanmay helped me get to the right space before every match with all the training and opponent analysis. He came primarily for all this.

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The Team Leader of the table tennis contingent, M. P. Singh, said on record that you refused to let Roy sit for your match. What exactly happened between you and Roy?

I think sometimes it’s portrayed wrongly. Like I said, Roy da is Sutirtha’s personal coach and Sanmay was in the gallery. Sanmay knows my game and I would prefer that Sanmay would advise me. Once that didn’t happen, I thought I would play alone since Sanmay and I were devising strategies ahead of every match and he was also telling me from the gallery.

So was there an ego issue between you and Roy?

He sat for our mixed doubles match. Later, he asked me and I told him I would play alone. He was fine with it. He didn’t say anything. I don’t know if anyone said anything in the media but it’s okay. I am mentally strong and I’ll remain that way only.

READ| Manika Batra beats Margaryta Pesotska to enter Round 3, Sathiyan knocked out

How did you manage to remain mentally strong over the last couple of weeks?

I didn’t know about any of it when it was unfolding. I have not been following news for the last few weeks. Sanmay kept telling me you just focus on the game and told me to not read newspapers. He told me all the Indian fans are with you. Usually I don’t read any newspapers during a tournament. Here in Tokyo, I hardly checked messages on my phone as well since I wanted to be in my zone. I think it helps me a lot.

What’s the next target?

We have WTT (international tour) tournaments, then the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. We have multiple back-to-back tournaments lined up, so the target is to go back and work harder on the mistakes I made over here.

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