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National Games: Playing in hometown, Manav recalls his start from room in basement ahead of Games

Surat, Sep 18 (IANS) One of the most exciting table tennis players in the country, Gujarat’s former World Junior No. 1 Manav Thakkar is looking forward to playing his first major tournament at home.

Come Tuesday, the 22-year-old, still skinny and bespectacled paddler will be hoping to showcase his prowess to his friends and family when the 36th National Games kicks off on September 20 on his home turf.

It will be the first time that Thakkar will be competing in a major tournament in his home town Surat.

“It’s true. It is the first big event for me here and I will give my best. We have a good team and are confident of doing well,” Thakkar, who was part of the 2018 Asian Games bronze medal team, said.

When Thakkar first picked up a table tennis racquet, back in 2005, he was barely 6. And not even as high as the table. Still, he enrolled at the Sufaiz Academy in Surat, which was a small basement room then.

Undeterred by snide remarks, Thakkar quickly mastered the game. Talented and determined that he was, in less than five years, he was ready for a fascinating journey, if not the world.

In no time, he stunned the sport’s aficionados in the country by becoming the World No. 1 in the junior category and then in the Under-21s too.

Manav, whose father Vikas is an ophthalmologist, admits that opting for a sports career ahead of medicine was a bold and not-so-easy decision.

“I was 11 when I left home. I felt homesick and missed home food. But things got better once I started performing. Today, all my family members are happy that I chased my dream,” he revealed.

Thakkar, the only paddler from Gujarat to qualify for the World Junior Championships, has fond memories of his ‘alma mater’ and continues to train with his coach Vahed Malubhaiwala in the same 15×30 feet basement room, whenever he is home.

“There is a lot of emotion attached to the small room where I first learned to play. I have a great bonding with my first coach Vahed Sir and I love practising with him,” he gushed.

Thakkar used the facility to keep in shape during lockdowns forced by the Covid pandemic. “My house is very close to the Sufaiz Academy. I practiced 4-5 hours daily, for 45 days non-stop. It helped me stay in touch and keep fit,” the IOCL Grade A1 officer said.

Malubhaiwala is also happy to see his student’s progress. “It’s heartening to see Manav do so well in life. He is training well and performing well. My family and I are proud of the fact that Manav keeps coming back to the humble small room from where it all started.”

Thakkar and all his supporters will be hoping that a new journey to something even more special will start with the National Games in his hometown.

–IANS

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