Enjoying his no. 1 status

G. Sathiyan...“Yes, I am right there (at the top).”-R. RAGU G. Sathiyan...“Yes, I am right there (at the top).”

Under his personal coach S. Raman, a multiple National champion, G. Sathiyan’s game has changed for the better; his backhand has become aggressive, his endurance level has gone up and his ‘close to the table’ play has improved considerably, writes K. Keerthivasan.

For many youngsters in India, dividing time between their chosen sport and academics is quite a difficult task. What happens, inevitably, to most of them is that they end up excelling in neither of them. For the major part of his college days, Indian table tennis player G. Sathiyan failed to perform to his potential, as he had to focus on his assignments, practical tests and examinations even while representing his institution in several inter-collegiate tournaments.

However, a few months after completing his degree in engineering, Sathiyan began winning titles. In August this year, the 20-year-old from Chennai won his first major National title at the All-India Inter-Institutional tournament in New Delhi. In September, he finished runner-up in the Central Zone National ranking tournament in Indore. Sathiyan then went on to win the West Zone National ranking tournament in Gandhidham (Gujarat) and take the No. 1 spot in Indian table tennis.

“Engineering was a big hindrance,” says Sathiyan. “There was no freedom to play. We had exams, and assignments to finish. I couldn’t focus on the game. Only during practice, I could think about the game. If not for my studies, my National titles could have come at least a year earlier.”

Sathiyan says he has plenty of time on hand now, and that is helping him think and focus on the game and practise with his personal coach S. Raman, a multiple National champion. This, according to him, is the major reason why he has been able to perform well.

Getting Raman as his personal coach in October 2012 was a masterstroke according to Sathiyan. After Raman’s arrival, his game has changed for the better; his backhand has become aggressive, his endurance level has gone up and his ‘close to the table’ play has improved considerably.

“You have to be with me to understand how good Raman Sir is,” says Sathiyan. “He observes minute things and suggests corrective measures. And most importantly, he discusses technique threadbare with me, and his ideas during many of my matches have been spot-on. My technique has become stable.” While he lost to Devesh Karia (4-3) in the final of the Central Zone ranking tournament, Sathiyan came back strongly in the next event (the West Zone ranking tournament) to defeat the reigning National champion, Sanil Shetty, convincingly (4-1) in the summit clash.

“More than the No. 1 ranking, what gives me happiness is the fact that this season I have defeated Soumyajit Ghosh and Sanil Shetty. It makes me say, ‘Yes, I am right there’ (at the top).”

Working out at the Quantum Leap Performance, under the guidance of fitness trainer Ramji Srinivas and mental conditioning coach Badri Narayan, has made a huge difference to Sathiyan’s fitness level. “They have the state of the art sports-specific equipment. It has made me much fitter,” he says.

FIRST MAJOR NATIONAL TITLE... Sathiyan with the trophy after winning the All-India Inter-Institutional tournament in New Delhi. With him is the women's champion, Poulomi Ghatak.-SANDEEP SAXENA

It was his first coach V. Chandrasekar, a former National champion with whom he trained for nearly 15 years, who set the foundation. “I have high regards for Chandra Sir. He gave me the confidence to play my natural game. It was here that I developed my backhand,” says Sathiyan.

Sathiyan trains with Raman and a robot for two and a half hours in the morning and evening at the Nehru Stadium. This is followed by 2-3 sessions at the gymnasium. “I am lucky to have a nice team which gives me proper guidance,” says the ONGC employee.

His next target is the Senior National Championship in Puducherry in January 2015. “It is my dream to win the Nationals. I am confident and will go for the championship in a positive frame of mind hoping for the best,” says Sathiyan.

Sathiyan is part of the Elite Sportsperson Scheme run by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, which gives Rs. 25 lakh per annum for four years until the 2016 Rio Olympics.