Elated after being among those selected for this year’s prestigious Arjuna Award, star paddler Manika Batra on Thursday said it was a recognition to her hard work over the years.
The 23-year-old Manika recently scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman paddler to win an Asian Games medal when she paired up with veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal to bag the bronze in the mixed doubles competition.
“It’s a real pleasure to be selected for this year’s Arjuna Award. I am excited to receive the award,” Manika told IANS after being signed as the latest face of Herbalife Nutrition.
“This is a recognition of my hard work, and the medals which I won in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. This is the time to be happy and excited,” she added.
Manika has also proved that her Commonwealth Games (CWG) success, where she emerged as the country’s top performer with four medals — a gold each in women’s singles and women’s team event, silver in women’s doubles, and a bronze in mixed doubles — was not a fluke and clearly she is the next big thing in table tennis.
Despite grabbing eyeballs with her brilliant performances this season, Manika has an unfulfilled dream which she is striving hard to achieve.
“From here on, the main target is to improve on my world ranking and find myself in the top-30 or top-20. With a better world ranking, I will have better chances at the Tokyo Olympics.
“The dream is to be among the top-10 in the world. I have the National Ranking zonals and then the Pro Tours where the focus will be mainly on improving my world ranking,” said Manika, who is currently ranked World No.56.
When prodded on the level of competition in the CWG and the Asiad, and how eventually she managed to break the shackles at Jakarta, Manika explained: “The level of competition in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games is totally different.”
“In the CWG, the battle is mainly against the Singapore paddlers whereas in Asiad, all the table tennis powerhouses compete, which makes it really tough,” she added.
Rating her Asian Games medal as the “greatest achievement” till date, Manika was however candid enough to admit that she wasn’t at her fittest self during the Asian Games.
“Even during the Asian Games, I felt I lack on the fitness standards of the Chinese and other Asian paddlers. I have to work more on my reflexes and movements.
“I am currently focussing on my agility and fitness with my fitness coach Subodh More with an eye to match to the standards of the Chinese,” she added.
On being quizzed if her height is the secret of her being touted as the next big thing in the table tennis world, the 5′ 11” paddler said it works both ways for her.
“My height works both ways…it is advantageous as the taller players have a better reach and require less movement but at the same time there is a negative which is we are more prone to back and knee injuries. I suffered from back pain recently but have worked on that and now I’m back to full fitness,” she recounted.
(Tridib Baparnash can be contacted at [email protected])