Interview! Table Tennis star Manav Thakkar wishes to emulate MS Dhoni's calm demeanour, eyes Olympic qualification

Vishal Sharma

New Delhi, June 21: As we are aware that young India paddler Manav Thakkar shot to number one in the Under-21 men's category, becoming the first Indian to do so earlier this year beating Argentina's Martin Bentancor and joining the likes of compatriots Harmeet Desai, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Soumyajit Ghosh.

Now, Manav is aiming to break the top 100 barriers of Senior Men's world ranking very much willingly. Like every athlete, his next big target is to represent India in the Olympics.

Manav is currently at 139th ranking in the senior's world ranking according to ITTF as of now. 2018-20 have been the breakthrough years for the 20-year-old as he not only beat top world-class paddlers in ITTF Pro Tours but also achieved his career-high ranking so far.

Skating and gymnastics ended up shaping him into a table tennis player. He was a part of the Indian Men's team who won a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and that's his biggest achievement so far. Manav is a great fan of legendary cricketer MS Dhoni and wants to be like him.

Manav received the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement in Sport 2015 from Hon'ble President of India then Shri Pranab Mukherjee and also was rewarded with Mr Consistent Performer of the Year trophy at the GoSports Foundation Awards in 2017.

While discussing his sporting journey more, Vishal Sharma caught up with young table tennis prodigy Manav Thakkar in an exclusive conversation.

Here are the excerpts:

Question: We know it's not easy to beat some of the best players in the world share your thrilling sporting Journey so far with us?

Answer: I started playing Table tennis at the age of 6 years in 2006. We had a TT table at home where my parents used to play. I started playing by watching them play. Initially, I used to play with my father at Home for first 6 Month when I was in Senior KG. I learnt basics very fast so my parents took me to TT academy near my home at Surat. This is how my TT Journey started.

I used to practice at Sufaiz Academy located at Surat. Vahed Malubhaiwala was my basic Coach. I used to practice every day even on Festival days like Diwali, Holi, IDD or during my exam days. Then in 2012, I went to Ajmer in Petroleum Sports academy (PSPB) for further training and then kick-off to make a mark in the Indian Team and Internationally.

Q: What sort of struggle do you faced in life? How did you overcome out of these situations? Share your experience?

Ans: Initially up to 6TH std I was in Surat only at my home. I was good at my studies also, I hardly got time to study due to the busy schedule of Tournament and Practice. I used to study on weekends days as well. As being at home I got a lot of support from my parents. From 7th Std onwards, I was at PSPB Academ, Ajmer. It was quite difficult to manage both academics and Table Tennis as I was in the hostel. But somehow I managed my school and studies and scored around 70% marks in both 10th and 12th Board Exams.

Food was also a big problem in the hostel, then I started eating non-veg to fulfil my protein requirement. I used to travel a lot for Training and Tournaments from an early age both nationally and internationally. Many a time, I was travelling all alone in different countries, so sometimes I faced the language problem.

Q: What was your first big win? Can you share your achievement memories?

Ans: I was a part of the historic bronze medal-winning team at Asian Games 2018, this was so far my biggest achievement ever. I learnt a lot from my senior players and gained good experience.

Q: Who were the biggest challenger/competitors in your sporting carrier so far?

Ans: Chinese Players are my biggest challenger/Competitors. because they are so physically fit and have enough strength to generate power and also they have the complete game. Good defence as well as attack that's why they are the best. They are also having high-speed.

Q: Who is your inspiration/role model and why?

Ans: India cricketer MS Dhoni is my role model, I like him very much. He is a cool and calm sportsperson and also very hardworking; I want to be like him.

Q: What motivates you around you the most?

Ans: I want to win more and more Medals for my Country India. As I am representing India in various tournaments all around the globe. I want to win pride and raise tricolour high for India.

Q: What it takes to be world no. 1 that too twice first I under 18 and now under 21?

Ans: My Concentration, Passion and Hard Work also Guidance and support from TTFI, GSTTA, SAG, Indian oil, Go Sports Foundation and Coaches helped me to reach the world no. 1 in both U-18 and now in U-21. And the main reason behind is my which support has helped to reach wherever I am.

Q: What do you do in Training? Specific Technique, Coaching?

Ans: I regularly Practice in two sessions that's morning and evening also I do fitness every day
And do service practice and Multiball Training in evening sessions. I also regularly watch the video of my opponent game to analysis and planned my strategy accordingly.

Q: Who is your Coach? What is your next big Goal/big Target in your Sports Career?

Ans: Deepak Malik is my Present Coach. Vahed Malubhai (Surat) is my health coach. Chinese coach from PSPB Academy, Yen Wei is my developmental coach. Massimo Constantini former India national coach is my advance coach.

My next big goal is to improve my senior World ranking and first I want to be in the league of top 100 ITTF WR. Next, I want to represent India In the Olympics very much willingly.

Q: Tell us the secret behind how Surat Boy turn into International Champion?

Ans: Secret behind my success is my focus, hard work, passion and Concentration and support of Federation, My Sponsors and Guidance of my coaches and fellow players. And patience is very important you need to be discipline and should have 'never give up attitude'.

Q: How do you feel Representing India being Youngest Among legends of Indian Table tennis Team?

Ans: I was selected in Indian Senior Team first time for Asian Games 2018 And we Won Historic Bronze medal. It was a great Learning Experience for me. My Senior players are very supportive. I learnt a lot from them. I learnt How to make Strategies, how to Handle a pressure of Big Tournaments etc.

Q: How are you cope up with Covid 19? How much it affects your Training and professional life after all you are the part of senior Indian Men's team?

Ans: I played Oman Open in (10-15) March 2020, where I won Silver in U-21 and became the world no 1. After Returning from Oman I was in Home Quarantine for 15 days. Then due to lockdown I could not able to Practice much as there is a TT table at home. I used to do service Practice and some basic Training. I am doing regular Physical fitness training sessions Under Guidance of My Physio Mr Gaurav Sharma through live Video calling.

Q: How are You feeling Being Nominated for Arjuna Award? Express your Feelings?

Ans: I am very much delighted to know that I was nominated for the Arjuna Award. I wish I will receive it this year. It is a feeling of pride for me if I take this prestigious award home.

Q: Tell us about how Stupa Sports Analytics has helped you, in terms of training, match analysis? Is it beneficial for players?

Ans: Stupa Analytics helped me a lot as it helps me to analyse my own game. For example, if either I have some technical issues or fitness issues, so then I can practice it again and correct my mistakes. Also, it shows the statistical data of some common mistakes made by me, so stupa has helped me a lot in improving my game and to work specifically on my weak points.

Q: What are your aims for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which has been postponed?

Ans: We are still awaiting further updates and training because we don't have the guidelines. But for that first I need to improve my world rankings, so my main aim will be to break into top (70-80) barrier and it's achievable.

Q: Would you like to give some tips to those young paddlers regard training and how to be a successful athlete, who consider you as their role model?

Ans: Love the sport. Work hard and trust the process, success will not come the very next day and be disciplined in terms of practice, training sessions, diet. Train yourself regularly and exercise as well importantly, one day you will surely succeed.

Vishal Sharma is a Delhi based sports journalist. An enthusiast who loves to travel and explore things around. He analysis sports and observe in-depth manner. He is a news and features writer on several online publications. His life is all around sports. Some of his hobbies are blogging, singing, research, travelling and meet geeks. He is a Wikipedian too.

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