The men’s team championship gold may have been India’s seventh table tennis gold in the Commonwealth Games history ever the sport was included in the Friendly Games in 2002. But it was a first in many ways for India’s paddlers as, for the first time, India defended a gold medal.
No doubt G. Sathiyan, India’s highest-ranked paddler in the squad, was chuffed with the team winning its second successive gold medal.
“It’s a huge win. For the first time, we have defended the gold. Feels great to be able to do that. And that makes it much sweeter than the 2018 win,” Sathiyan told Sportstar soon after India overhauled Singapore 3-1 in the final at Birmingham.
Being a qualified engineer, Sathiyan has a habit of using multiple adjectives. The manner in which he carried himself out on the court on Tuesday was worthy of him being showered with all sorts of adjectives.
Moments after veteran Sharath Kamal was stunned by Clarence Chew to square the tie, Sathiyan - who had earlier given India the lead with Harmeet Desai in the doubles - overcame Koen Pang in the most exciting clash of the final.
“The way I played feels really good. It was a very crucial tie. It was 1-1 and Peng was playing really well, so for me to deliver and bring that top-notch game under pressure, that’s something that shows I have matured as a player,” Sathiyan said.
“Delighted with the aggressive brand of table tennis I played and I hope I can continue in the same mood for the remaining week.”
Sathiyan admitted that Sharath “after creating a big upset, defeating Aruna Quadri in the semifinal” was a “bit of a surprise” but stressed he had to keep himself focused on his game.
“It was important to play as a team but at the same time, it was important to play for yourself and do what you do right. I wanted to stick to my tactics. I was under the same pressure and similar butterflies like the last Commonwealth Games but I am glad that I could manage myself,” he said.
“I knew the right things to do and how to keep my focus, so I am really glad that under pressure, I could bring down a challenging opponent.”
Soon after Sathiyan put India back in the saddle, he had a short chat before Harmeet took on in-form Clarence. And the pep-talk seemed to have worked wonders as Harmeet sealed the deal with a straight-game win and ensured Sharath got the much-needed rest ahead of individual disciplines starting Thursday.
“I told him you’ve played a fantastic doubles match, so just go in and express yourself. Me winning also put him into that confident mode and he could really go for it,” Sathiyan said.
“Some strategies of course, to open up the game and to go for the strokes. With Sharath, he (Clarence) was receiving well, so we had to change the service plan.”
All the four members of India’s squad - Sharath, Sathiyan, Harmeet and Sanil Shetty - were part of the gold medal-winning squad in Gold Coast in 2018. Sathiyan stressed that it was a better unit this time around.
“We are much more mature and a better side now. Even though the players are the same, we have improved quite a lot. We have analysed much better. We are backing each other. I analysed so many videos of all the potential opponents from Nigeria, England and Singapore. We had a complete database. We discussed a lot of strategies,” Sathiyan said.
“And the team bonding also has been very good. We have spent a lot of time with each other on tours for the last few years, so you could see the energy on the bench. It was electrifying and amazing. That really helped a lot of us to pump up and get the results.”