Manika Batra's Asian Cup medal, according to her mixed doubles partner Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, has strengthened India's standing as a worldwide force in table tennis. He also believes that this victory suggests that India's first Olympic medal in TT is now within grasp.
After witnessing Manika defeat some of the world's top players on her route to a bronze medal - which was the first medal won in the tournament's 39-year history by an Indian woman - in Thailand on Saturday, Sathiyan said what was even more encouraging was the way she played.
"She was very, very aggressive. It was the best I have seen her play. She's always had the potential to beat the top players in the world, and I think she is now starting to play at her best," he told The Bridge.
In the bronze medal match, Manika, ranked 44 in the world, defeated world number 6 and three-time Asian Champion Hina Hayata of Japan. Earlier in the tournament, she defeated world number seven Chen Xingtong of China to go to the quarterfinals. She is the first Indian to defeat two top ten players in the same championship.
"I have no words to describe how significant this medal is. To win a medal in a tournament which has the top players in the world, beating so many top 10 players on the way - this will inspire all of us in the team. This shows us how India is on the rise and even the Chinese and Japanese are beatable," said Sathiyan.
China has dominated the Asian Cup, winning 125 medals overall in the 39-year history of the competition, compared to India's two prior to this year. Prior to Manika's giant-killing performance last week, Sathiyan's sixth-place result at this event in 2019 was the highest Indian has placed in this competition in the last century.
Sathiyan is already in France, competing for top-tier French Pro A league team Jura Morez Tennis de Table to become used to the circumstances before the Paris Olympics in 2024, whereas Manika Batra chose to take a little hiatus after winning bronze.
Manika and Sathiyan, a mixed doubles team, made rankings history earlier in November when they became the first Indian team to enter the top five. They are undoubtedly India's greatest chance to win its first-ever Olympic table tennis medal in Paris 2024.
"The next two years are going to be crucial. Given that Manika is playing at her best, I think we can do wonders. We have the World Championships coming up, then the Asian Games and finally the Paris Olympics," said Sathiyan.
The fast growth Indian table tennis has experienced over the past five years, according to Sathiyan, is only the newest phase of that growth.
"Indian table tennis has been on the rise since 2017/18. I won my second Pro Tour title, Manika put up a great show in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Not just that, even the juniors are stepping up - Sreeja Akula did very well at the CWG this year. Sharath (Kamal) anna has of course been doing this for a decade and more. The rise has been phenomenal. An Olympic medal is not far away," said Sathiyan.
"India is seen as a huge force across the globe - in Europe as well as in Asian countries. We are in the top nations now, going toe-to-toe with them," he added.