Manav Thakkar re-defining his game in career's new phase

The India paddler, who has now shifted base to Sonepat, hopes to make rapid strides in the senior category after a mixed 2021.

Thakkar analysed his game and focussed on two core areas – adding a new dimension to his counter-attacking game and correcting his posture.   -  G. Ramakrishna

Although a top competitor, Manav Thakkar wasn't being able to win the National Ranking Table Tennis Championships in 2021. Just last month, after losing a final to unseeded Sanil Shetty in Dehradun, the India No. 5 lost to Arjun Ghosh in the last 16 in Puducherry.

It turns out Thakkar has been trying to add new elements to his game without allowing it to affect his equilibrium or diminish his edge. And despite some excellent results – he won the bronze medal in doubles in the Asian Table Tennis Championships and made it to the round of 16 in the World Table Tennis Contender in Budapest – he admits there have been hiccups.

“I had a few bad losses as well this year, maybe because I was changing my style a bit,” Thakkar told Sportstar on phone from Indore, where he is gearing up for the National Ranking Table Tennis Championships (Central Zone), which begins on January 3.

“I wasn't able to manage my game well when I was trying out new things. I would get confused – should I continue in my old style or should I play differently. And because of this, I wasn't getting the proper connection (sic),” he said.

Strength and attack

The rocky journey to becoming a more potent player started with his move to Sonepat, near Delhi, to train under a new coach and support staff. Prompted by his desire to keep himself enrolled in a professional academy after leaving Ajmer, Thakkar analysed his game and focussed on two core areas – adding a new dimension to his counter-attacking game and correcting his posture.

He started relying more on his legs for his bent posture while playing and worked on gaining strength in his legs, his core and his arms to generate more power. And he started to attack more.

“Earlier, I would allow my opponent to attack and then play my own game. I continue to do that as that's my strength, but at the same time, I can surprise my opponent by making my own attacks, by hitting powerful strokes. But with the coming of the powerful strokes, I'm also missing my negative points many times. So that I need to manage well; whenever I'm attacking, there should be fewer mistakes and more surprises for the opponent, not surprises for me in terms of mistakes,” he explained.

Thakkar was the No. 1-ranked U-21 player in 2019, and for a player used to playing matches incessantly, he had to deal with a tricky period of late as he stopped playing age-group tournaments.

“Even if I lost confidence in the tournaments for seniors, I used to play U-21 matches and I used to win them and gain confidence. But now it's not like that, whenever I'm playing in seniors, you lose two or three matches, you lose your confidence. That was a very challenging time for me because I was not expecting this (sic). Now I'm able to cope with that because that's very important.”

Underlining the advantages of this new situation, he said, “I can now plan my training with my coach, I can plan my schedule, and work on my weak points, and then play the matches. Once I focus on the process, not on the result, then it's easier for me to gain confidence.”

To elevate his game further, Thakkar joined the Bundesliga – the German Table Tennis League – in 2021 but couldn't play a single game due to the pandemic. Now he hopes he can make it there this year before his visa expires in a couple of months.

Before that, though, he will hope to carry his good form from the Inter-Unit PSPB tournament - he defeated Anthony Amalraj, G. Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai en route to the singles title - to the National Ranking Championships and then the 83 Inter-State National Championships in Shillong later this month, a tourney he nearly won in 2019 when he lost the final 4-3 to Harmeet Desai.

Thakkar, who also spends time with mentor Sharath Kamal in Chennai when not training in Sonepat, hopes to win medals in the mega events – the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, and the World Championships – this year. Outlining his personal goals, he said, “I want to improve my ranking in the senior category (currently 133). I want to climb into the top 100s or even the top 80s in the coming year, and by 2024 or 2025, I want to reach the top 20s or the top 10s.”

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