Manika Batra sees "improvement" since splitting with childhood coach Sandeep Gupta

Paddler Manika Batra feels she has made significant strides since moving her training base to Pune, justifying her separation from childhood coach Sandeep Gupta.

Manika Batra with her former coach Sandeep Gupta.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

India’s star table tennis player Manika Batra feels she has made significant strides ever since moving her training base to Pune in February, justifying her bitter separation from childhood coach Sandeep Gupta.

The 24-year-old knew “people” will make a “big deal” out of her decision to part ways with Gupta, who was bestowed with the Dronacharya Award in August, but she felt the call was needed to improve her game.

Their two-decade old association went so sour that they are not on talking terms anymore. She now trains with Sanmay Paranjape.

The “improvement” is also reflecting in the ITTF rankings in which she jumped 18 places in the last two months to be world number 61, following her round of 32 finish in German and Sweden Open.

“I felt a lot more confident about my game and my movement in Germany and at Sweden Open. I can see the improvement. The playing environment in Pune really is positive and all my training partners are working hard with me as well for themselves,” Manika, who is now an Asics athlete, told PTI in an interaction.

Manika, a multiple-time CWG gold medallist and Asian Games bronze medallist, is confident of returning to the top-50 soon.

“Physically I need to be stronger so that I can move better around the table. In table tennis, reflexes are very important. Everyone says I am tall so I can reach easily but reaching with hands is not enough, you have to be equally fast with your leg movement. I am working on that,” said the paddler who plays with a pimpled rubber.

Playing with a pimpled rubber doesn’t surprise the opponents the way it used to in the past, making Manika’s task tougher.

She had stunned Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei twice en route her stellar campaign at 2018 Commonwealth Games but the better-prepared Singaporean humbled the Indian 4-0 in Germany last month.

“Yes, the players are more used to the rubber now and that is why I need to keep reinventing my game, keep improving, keep surprising the opponent. For that, I am working on a few things,” said Manika who plans to twiddle her racket, while playing a point, at a much faster pace.

“And for that I need to improve my movement. I plan to use the pimpled rubber a lot more while I am twiddling,” she said.

Manika said the lack of a coach since the 2018 Asian Games is not affecting her preparations for the Olympic qualifiers as she prefers training on her own.

“But yes, team bonding is required and that happens in national camps. The camps will happen once the new coach comes in. Also camps are needed if you have to prepare for the doubles events,” she said.

Her bronze at the Asian Games alongside veteran Sharath Kamal has given hopes of an Olympic medal, something which was “unthinkable” not so long ago.

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