Thakkar: Aiming high

Leapfrogging from cadets to juniors and from there to seniors, skipping the sub-junior and youth sections along the way, defines not just his confidence but class too.

G. Ramakrishna

Manav Vikas Thakkar... more a defensive and counter-attacking player.   -  G. Ramakrishna

Manav Vikas Thakkar punches above his weight, perhaps to hit out at the strong. Barely a decade ago he was trading shots with his parents at home. The scrawny Surat-born paddler has sky-rocketed to becoming India No. 4 in seniors and 31 in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) junior boys rankings. And he’s still three months away from turning 17!

“The lower age group competitions finish quickly in most tournaments. I noticed I played more freely against the seniors,” Thakkar told Sportstar, when preparing for the World Junior Circuit finals in Indore. It came as no surprise that older players began to squirm.

A month’s workout mastering the seamed ball paid rich dividends. Used extensively across the world, even in the Olympics, rivals ran into rough weather against the said sphere. An honest assessment of his strengths and weaknesses put Manav on a better footing.

While not short on stamina, he lacked the strength that can be destructive when driving the ball. So he tweaked his otherwise vegetarian diet to include eggs while increasing intake of rice and lentils. The backhand block and jab are his pet strokes if not his strong points.

With Jan Ove Waldner for role model, Thakkar is more a defensive and counter-attacking player. “The Swedish legend had the best feel for the game,” said the teenager, who goes more by his instincts when adapting to the opponent across the table. Not too much of a theoretician, the bespectacled youngster carried out a video analysis of adversaries for the first time here.

A close-to-the-table player, the Standard XI Commerce student is on an Indian Oil scholarship at Mayur School, Ajmer, while training at the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy there. Dabbling in doubles once a week, initially for fun, he finds it has sharpened his reflexes. To play in the international leagues is a call he’ll take when he completes his crucial Class XII exams.

To play the 2018 World championships and the 2020 Olympics are Thakkar’s ambitions. Leapfrogging from cadets to juniors and from there to seniors, skipping the sub-junior and youth sections along the way, defines not just his confidence but class too. They should take him places.