Pressure inspires me, says Manika as she guns for four-gold haul

The 2018 Commonwealth Games were a breakthrough year for Indian table tennis star Manika Batra and catapulted her to stardom, getting her immeasurable adulation and praise for winning four medals including two gold.

That’s enough of a success for someone to live an entire life because Indian women’s table tennis players had not had great results in the Commonwealth Games before that.

But as she spearheads the Indian challenge in the 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games here, Manika has pushed the heroics of 2018 into the background long back but it does come back regularly as everyone refers to start a conversation.

But Manika always tries to live in the moment, focusing on things to come and making the best of the opportunities that come her way.

The star performer for India in the Commonwealth Games in 2018, winning four medals in all including gold medals in women’s team event and women’s singles, Manika is gunning for more glory at Birmingham 2022, hoping to add the women’s doubles and mixed doubles gold medals also to her kitty.

On Friday, the 26-year-old from New Delhi led the Indian women’s team to a comfortable 3-0 victory against South Africa in a preliminary round Group 2 match.

Manika was at the table for the first singles game and thoroughly outplayed her opponent, Musfiquh Kalam, allowing her to win only 10 points combined in the three games, romping to an 11-5, 11-3, 11-2 win in double quick time.

Manika said there is always the pressure of expectations but she tries not to think about that and focus her energies on the next event. She says her desire to do her best in every match comes from that pressure.

“I always go into a tournament thinking that is a new tournament and whatever happened in the previous one has no bearing on this. Pressure will always be there, I am a player. But I try to take the pressure with me because only from that pressure comes the desire to give my 100% in every match,” said Manika after the match.

“We have to think like this because if I keep on thinking about that [record medal haul], then I will keep my blood pressure high. I don’t think about the past tournaments. It’s a new tournament. It’s 2022. I come here as a new player and, like a kid, I have to play like I enjoyed the game in 2018,” said Manika.

Manika said at times it is difficult but she wants to do her best in all four disciplines — women’s singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles besides the Team competition, she is competing in Birmingham 2022.

“”Sometimes it’s really difficult because whenever teams are finished, then we have doubles, singles so we have to just keep that same body language, same confidence. If we are good in that, it really helps us.

“I always think that I have to just go there on the table and give 100 percent for my country. I just want Indians, everyone, to support and cheer for us,” said Manika.

The 26-year-old from New Delhi said though she has not changed as a person following her success in 2018, she has evolved as a player.

“I am the same as I was before 2018 — the same Manika Batra that always gives her 100% for her country. This is a new tournament, a new Commonwealth Games. “We have a young team. We all are motivating each other. Age doesn’t matter. It’s really fun to be with them and in the match we support each other. We motivate each other,” said Manika.

Manika’s role too has changed in the team. She is now the most experienced player and therefore helps her new teammates by sharing her experiences with them and giving them tips when things are not going well.

Anandita Chakraborty, coach of the women’s team said Manika has had a great influence on the other players. “As a player she is great and as a human being also. As of now, she is the most senior in the team as far as experience goes. She’s supporting the whole team and she is trying to pull up everybody in the same pace. She’s doing a lot.

“Even during the matches, she gives tips to her teammates and points out things that could be done differently,” the coach said.

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