Manika thrilled to return home as UTT’s Delhi leg opens Wednesday (Preview)

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New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) As the CEAT Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) moves to Delhi for the second leg, 2018 Commonwealth Games double gold medallist Manika Batra on Tuesday expressed her excitement at the prospect of playing in front of her home crowd for the first time after her Gold Coast feats.

Manika is already on a high with superb performances for Dabang Smashers, who have rocketed to the top of the six-team table with two massive victories in the Pune leg.

The 23-year-old is aiming to extend her winning ways when she steps up to the table against RP-SG Mavericks at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in the first match of the Delhi leg on Wednesday.

Manika’s world ranking of 80 is not a true reflection of her abilities, at least in this event, as she has upstaged World No.15 Sofia Polcanova (Empowerji Challengers) and World No 30. Matilda Ekholm (Falcons TTC).

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She believes the fans, who turned up in thousands at the Shiv Chhatrapati Complex in Balewadi played a part and is expecting many more here to cheer her and the Smashers.

“Crowd support has been fantastic and it has boosted my confidence. I think the pressure is more on my opponents when I’m playing in India,” she said.

“I am very excited to play in Delhi and I am hoping there will be lot of support from my hometown fans. We are keen on a strong display against the Mavericks,” she added.

Manika went on to reveal that she has been working on her skills set to unsettle her rivals.

“After my success at the Commonwealth Games, I know lot of people will be watching my game closely. So I have been fine tuning my skills to confuse them,” she said.

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Delhi Smashers captain Gnanasekaran Sathiyan, India’s highest ranked player (World No. 44), has been another star performer for the team.

Sathiyan has won all the matches (two mixed doubles and two singles), he played so far this season.

Incidentally, he has not lost a singles match since last season. The Smashers now face their stiffest test yet as they run into the only other team with an all-win record, Mavericks.

Smashers’ victory margins have been the biggest of the season — 14-7 over Warriors and 17-4 against defending champions Falcons — but more importantly they have won 12 of their 14 matches from the two ties.

Mavericks are not far behind, defeating last year’s finalists Challengers 13-8 and then Maharashtra 11-10.

Interestingly, Mavericks too have an inspirational Indian woman player in Ahyika Mukherjee, ranked World No. 124, who has punched way above her weight by shocking World No. 20 Lee Ho Ching (Challengers) and World No. 56 Lily Zhang (Maharashtra United).

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They also have the highest ranked woman player of the event, World No. 13 Doo Hoi Kem (Hong Kong), on their roster apart from the tenacious German Sabine Winter (World No. 60), who has logged two fluent 3-0 victories.

On her strategy for the upcoming tie against Smashers, the 21-year-old Ahyika is intent on keeping her cards close to the chest.

“Strategies should only be revealed at the table,” she says, adding, “I enjoy each point and always try to give my best without thinking about the ultimate outcome of the match.”

The clash of this season’s top teams is expected to be a cracker paving way for a grand opening of the Delhi leg.

–IANS

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