The onset of January not only marked the beginning of a new year, but it also marked Sathiyan Gnanasekaran's rise to becoming India's top-ranked paddler. The 24-year-old Chennai lad jumped 19 places to reach a career-high world ranking of 49, two spots ahead of compatriot and veteran table tennis star Sharath Kamal.
Sathiyan's feat makes him only the second Indian ever, after Sharath, to make his way into the top-50 bracket.
“It’s a huge milestone for me and feels great to achieve my dream of reaching the top-50,” says an elated Sathiyan to Sportstar . “I will set higher targets now and I'm looking to break into the top-20 next year.”
Sathiyan had a remarkable 2017 that saw him clinch the Spanish Open in November , his second IITF Pro Tour title; a feat achieved by no other Indian.
“My initial target was set at reaching the top-60 but finishing the year on 49 was a pleasant surprise. I made a few changes to my game and it made wonders.
“The main difference this year was that I did not hold back and took calculated risks. I went for my shots and took bold steps and did not worry about results, which gave me a lot of confidence to beat top players,” he says.
Big things to come
Sathiyan’s rise to the top is largely due to training he has received under the tutelage of Olympian and national champion Subramaniam Raman, who has been working with him over the past five years, from when Sathiyan was ranked over 400 in the world.
“Sathiyan is the first home-bred world-class player in the truest sense. He has majorly played in India and hasn’t received any foreign training as such. This goes on to prove that Indian coaches, if fully committed, are competent enough to match world-class coaches,” quips Raman.
Sathiyan gunning for for a CWG gold
“This is just the beginning; he's only 24 and is already ranked 49. We’re aiming to move further and are currently looking at the top-20, then reaching a single figure ranking and winning an Olympic medal. We’re aiming big, dreaming big and working big,” says a determined Raman.
Golden period for Indian TT
India currently has six players in the top-100 with Soumyajit Ghosh (58), Harmeet Desai (60), Sanil Shetty (68) and Anthony Amalraj (87) trailing Sathiyan and Sharath.
“This is the best period in Indian table tennis. It used to be just me performing but now these youngsters have come to the fore and the future of Indian table tennis is in safe hands,” says the experienced Sharath Kamal.
"The improvement in rankings is a huge boost ahead of the Commonwealth and Asian Games,” he added.
Best yet to come
Sathiyan has an action-packed year ahead, as he aims for a podium finish at the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, while keeping a keen eye at the 2020 Olympics. “This undoubtedly was the best year of my career so far but the best is yet to come,” signs off a confident sounding Sathiyan, with a promising year in the beckoning.