Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has become the first Indian paddler to sign with a Japanese T-League as, on Saturday, he announced that he will be representing Okayama Rivets for the 2020-21 season.
“Extremely happy to share that I will be the first Indian paddler to be a part of the prestigious Japanese professional T-League,” Sathiyan posted Twitter .
Speaking to Sportstar , India’s highest-ranked paddler expressed immense happiness about the move and said it is “tough to leave the German club”, ASV Grunwettersbasch, which treated him like family and presented him with a great opportunity to hone his skills.
“I think it’s good that I could make this move at a very crucial point of my career and I am looking forward to it as the Asian style will match my game and I will be playing against better players. So the quality of the matches will be really high. There will be a lot of training as well,” Sathiyan said.
Chennai-born Sathiyan confirmed that he will don the Rivets outfit for 12 matches and will join the team in September 2020, just after the next edition of Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT).
“There are currently four clubs in the league with talks about expansion already in place. As of now, each team plays every other team seven times. But I have signed up for 12 matches. My association with the German club comes to an end after two years in June, 2020,” he said.
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When asked about how the switch came about, Sathiyan, currently ranked 30 in the world, credited his coach. “A lot of credit goes to Raman sir, who was the key person in suggesting to shift my base from Europe to Asia because when you play for a team in a league, it becomes much easier to train systematically. It is usually tough on the logistics end for us when we just go for training. We can’t be regular,” he said.
Sathiyan also revealed that the talks have been going on for almost a year and that he received a lot of offers from various Japanese clubs after beating world No. 5 Tomokazu Harimoto in the Asian Championships. “I feel that (beating Harimoto) was the turning point. We only started thinking of practice (in Japan) and the discussion proceeded then to leagues. We go to know that the Japanese league is only in its second year and thought of giving it a shot.”
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The Indian paddler is relishing the opportunity of sharing the dressing room with the likes of Lin Yun-Ju (world No. 6), Masataka Morizono (world No. 43), Yoshida Masaki (world No. 144 and Dabang Smashers teammate in UTT 2), Ueda Jin (world No. 235), who he beat in the Asian Games. He believes that this will give him a major push in breaking into the top-20.
“A chunk of top players are from Asia. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what I believe in, so training along with them will help me improve my skills, my speed and the serve-and-receive game, something I have always talked about improving. With the Olympics fast approaching, they have a solid system in place,” he said.
Sathiyan will next head to Germany to play his last two German League matches on February 16 and 23, respectively and also take part in the Hungarian Open from February 18 onward.