Sathiyan guns for a CWG gold

G. Sathiyan, after a memorable outing at the Ultimate Table Tennis, talks about the league, his change in tactics, his prospects at the upcoming Commonwealth Games among other things.

To reach the top-100 world rankings was a dream for G. Sathiyan. Now that he's gotten there, he wants to climb higher and accomplish greater things.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Twenty-four-year-old Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has had a remarkable month, to say the least. The Chennai-lad had a memorable outing at the recently concluded Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league, which saw him record his career's biggest victory during his  win over world No. 8 Wong Chun Ting.

While his side, Dabang Smashers, was knocked out in the semifinal, it was a massive morale-boost for Sathiyan, given his streak of victories over many top-ranked players.

The paddler feels the biggest take-away from the UTT was getting into the minds of the players and studying their techniques. “I was able to see how they prepared for a match, what went through their mind and what their strategies were.”

“We’re normally not very close to the top-20 players and we’ve always seen them as big players. We never got an opportunity to talk to them or get to know them and the UTT provided a great opportunity for that,” says a delighted Sathiyan, in a telephone interview with Sportstar.

Along with his exploits at the UTT, Sathiyan’s triumph at the Belgium Open – which made him the first Indian player to win a pro tour tournament on European soil – and a strong performance at the Australian Open have led to a jump in his rankings. 

In the rankings released on August 1, Sathiyan is ranked 90 and has realised his goal of breaking into the top -100. 

“It feels great, I’m very excited. It was a long-term goal to break into the top-100. I’m looking forward to breaking into the top-60 this year,” says an elated Sathiyan. 

The paddler felt that the Belgium Open was a great stepping stone for him. “The Belgium Open definitely gave me extra confidence. After the win I felt like I was up there, among the world-class players. Winning a pro-tour tournament was not easy and people started to know me and that gave me immense confidence,” he says, adding that he was able to carry the momentum into the upcoming tournaments.

“We’re normally not very close to the top-20 players and we’ve always seen them as big players. We never got an opportunity to talk to them or get to know them and the UTT provided a great opportunity for that,” says G. Sathiyan, who's posing in this picture with compatriots A. Amalraj (left) and Madhura Patkar (right).   -  EMMANUAL YOGINI


His recent string of success can be credited to his new-found aggressive style of play, which was thrust on him by his coach, former Olympian and national champion S. Raman.

“An aggressive mindset is the way going forward. I grew up focusing on consistency alone but now I’m playing with quality and consistency. My coach ensured that I went for my shots and I’m now doing the same and taking a lot more calculated risks,” he says.

“After the aggressive mindset came about, I felt like everything just fell into place. Playing aggressive has really helped me to perform better,” he adds. 

Coach Raman was very proud of his ward, but wasn't very concerned about his ranking. “These numbers are not too great for me, personally. He's got all the potential to break into the top-40. This is just one small landmark for a milestone,” he says, “He has all the good attributes to make it to the top.”

A prolific player in his time, Raman has been training Sathiyan over the past four years, when the latter was ranked over 400 in the world. It's safe to say the the duo have come a long way. 

Speaking on how he got Sathiyan to adapt to an attacking style of play, he says, “I really pushed him out of his comfort zone to play an attacking style. He gained a lot of confidence and momentum with the attacking style of play.”

Raman is certain that Sathiyan is a strong medal contender at the upcoming Commonwealth Games. “If he can continue his aggressive play and maintain momentum, a gold medal is very much in his reach,” he says.

“At 24, I'm sure you can expect big things from him. Sathiyan's here to stay,” says a determined Raman.

Sathiyan too, is optimistic about the upcoming Commonwealth Games and hopes to put up a strong performance. 

He praises the Indian team. “With the rigour and the way everyone is playing – we have four players in the top 100 and one in top 120 – we're the best Indian team now.” 

“Earlier, it was only Sharath (Kamal) but now we have an entire group. Everyone knows the top six by our names. It is a great feeling when people really acknowledge you,” he says.

“The foreign players at the UTT felt the level of TT in India has definitely risen. We hope to keep up to the mark and become one of the strongest nations in the sport. We can definitely make it to the top-5 in the world,” says Sathiyan, while emphasising that the team has great prospects at the CWG.

“To reach the top-100 was a dream, a few years ago but now my goal is to reach the top-60. Similarly, an Olympic medal is still a dream, but I think it will become a goal soon,” says the right-handed paddler, looking at a promising future ahead.

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