Sathiyan in search of maiden title, Harmeet confident of keeping crown

Having figured in three finals and three semifinals in his last six appearances, Sathiyan is looking to break the jinx in the next four days of the National table tennis championship that began on Saturday.

G. Sathiyan (left) and defending champion Harmeet Desai expect tough challenges in the National Table Tennis Championship.   -  RAKESH RAO

G. Sathiyan has beaten the competition to become the only Indian to break into the top-25 of the world rankings, but when it comes to winning the National title, he still has work to do.

Having figured in three finals and three semifinals in his last six appearances, Sathiyan is looking to break the jinx in the next four days of the National table tennis championship that began on Saturday.

“This is the first time when I got three weeks to train at home for the National championship and I hope all the hard work pays off this time,” was how Sathiyan spoke about his preparations at Panchkula on Saturday.

“The tables in India are faster than what you get in Europe and that requires some adjustments. Even the flooring and lighting in the arena could pose a few challenges. But here, the hall is simply world class and now it is up to the players to give their best.”

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While most players stayed back in India during the pandemic since last March, Sathiyan played league matches in Poland for two weeks, a month in Japan and returned to Poland for a week.

“I must point out, in Japan, two weeks were spent in quarantine and I gained a couple of kilograms while enjoying Japanese cuisine during my time in the hotel,” pointed out Sathiyan with a laugh and continued, “The only downside of travelling for competitions was undergoing mandatory quarantine.”

Unlike Sathiyan, his ONGC team-mate and defending champion Harmeet Desai has far less weighing on his mind. The reigning Commonwealth champion, also a 2019 Arjuna Awardee, is currently playing some of his best table tennis. Interestingly, both Sathiyan and Harmeet played their last competitive match on January 26 this year.

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“Once the action resumed in Europe, for about two months, I played competitively in France and trained in Denmark. Thereafter, I had a three-week stint in Germany and another 10 days in Belgium,” said Harmeet, who feels fitter as compared to his pre-Covid days.

“I am happy with my form and plan to take just one match at a time. Like Sathiyan said, in these conditions, Sharath Kamal remains the man to beat though there are other contenders.

The last word came from Sathiyan, “you have to beat at least three strong players to win the Nationals. In the past, I could manage to beat only two. This time, I intend to do better.”

With the seeded players set to join the action in the second round of the main draw on Sunday evening, the top-ranked players have enough time to make the necessary adjustments before starting their campaign.

The top-16 ranked players: 1. A. Sharath Kamal, 2. G. Sathiyan, 3. Manav Thakkar, 4. Harmeet Desai, 5. Sanil Shetty, 6. Soumyadeep Ghosh, 7. Sushmit Sriram, 8. Ronit Bhanja, 9. Jeet Chandra, 10. Arjun Ghosh, 11. Sudhanshu Grover,12. Jubin Kumar, 13. Manush Shah, 14. A. Amalraj, 15. Sourav Saha, 16. Abhishek Yadav.