Manav Thakkar: U-21 final one of the most memorable matches of my career

In a chat with Sportstar, young paddler Manav Thakkar reflects on his success in the ITTF Challenge Plus North American Open.

Young Indian paddler Manav Thakkar with the U-21 trophy.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


Manav Thakkar's first trip to North America turned out to be a memorable one. The 20-year-old ensured a couple of firsts in his career — an U-21 title and a quarterfinal finish among seniors in the ITTF Challenge Plus Series — to end his year on a high.

On December 6, Manav joined Harmeet Desai, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Soumyajit Ghosh among Indians in possessing the U-21 men's singles title when he posted a resounding win over Argentina's Martin Bentancor in the final of the North American Open. The next day, he bowed out in the quarterfinals of the senior category with a loss in six games to China's Xiang Peng, who went on to win the title.

“Before this tournament, I would focus more on my service. But this time, I [was better] focussed on the next two-three [rallies] after my serve. I was more motivated for the tournament, too,” Manav told Sportstar from Chennai, where he is participating in a training camp to gear up for the World Team Championships in Gondomar, Portugal.

“I was excited to be in Canada for the first time. It was my first trip to North America. I had a good two days of preparation time and the conditions were also different from India, which I enjoyed,” Manav said.

Support from Sharath

“The U-21 final was one of the most memorable matches of my career. Sharath [Kamal] sat for the match. He told me, 'You should enjoy the final.' He was cheering for me for each and every point that I won. Everything went perfectly,” he said.

Reflecting on his quarterfinal defeat against Peng, he said: “I started a little slowly, and then I became aggressive. I need to improve my strength [in strokemaking].”

Besides the technical side of things, what areas did he wish to work on to improve his all-round game? “I am working on improving my fitness — my power. Right now, I have a counter-attacking style; I want to have an aggressive approach and be more deceptive when playing a rally.”

Manav Thakkar (right) with U-21 runner-up Martin Bentancor.   -  ITTF


Changes needed to be made on the tactical front, too. “I want to be tactically [sound]. If I'm facing a senior player, I have to stay sharper and more focussed, because the senior will be [unrelenting] even in the second and third [rallies]. Until the last point is finished, I should not give up,” he said.

Bidding for Tokyo

Manav hopes to join his team-mates in booking a berth for the Tokyo Olympics with a good showing in the World Team Championships in February, 2020. “No Indian team has ever participated in the Olympics, so it'll be great if we can do it,” he said.

Having no formal head coach, however, hasn't been hampering the side too much, Manav felt. “A coach is needed, and the [TTFI] is trying to get one. But when we're travelling, we would have Indian coaches, like Soumyadeep Roy. To be frank, there isn't much of a difference [between an Indian and a foreign coach],” he signed off.

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