Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has been a busy man for the past three months.
The Indian table tennis player flew to Europe in October to play for Sokolow S.A Jaroslaw in the Polish Superliga, Poland’s domestic table tennis league.
Sathiyan then returned to India, self-quarantined for a fortnight before flying out to Tokyo in November to play for the Okayama Rivets in the T-League, becoming the first Indian to feature in one of the most renowned table tennis leagues in the world.
He came back home to Chennai on December 30 to spend a subdued – Sathiyan is still in self-isolation after foreign travel - New Year’s with his mother.
It was a welcome return to action after spending almost seven months at home after the table tennis calendar was halted and the Japan experience was especially important for Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
“For sure it was great exposure to play some of the best players, the high-quality competition was perfect for some pre-Olympic preparation,” Sathiyan said in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“But more importantly, I’d say I got into the Olympic mood in Tokyo. You see the billboards there and the city is decked up with posters, so you really soak it in.”
Olympic insight in Japan
While the festive environment was a big motivator, there were a couple of other in-game factors that gave Sathiyan some real insight into how to approach the Olympics come July.
“The brand of table that we played on in the T-League is actually the one that they will be using in the Olympics. It is mainly used only in Japan, not around the world, so I got an idea of how I might have to alter my style of play,” revealed Sathiyan.
The Indian table tennis player is accustomed to playing on tables in India, where the heat causes more friction on the surface, which means that the ball flies off the table and generates a large amount of spin, making quick hands imperative.
In stark contrast, tables in Europe are generally much slower and do not have much spin, which makes the rallies longer and requires greater energy to sustain the long periods of play.
“It is like grass courts and clay courts in tennis. But the Japanese tables were somewhere in between. They are not as slow as Europe and not as fast as India,” said Sathiyan.
“There is a different rhythm to those tables. It starts off slow but as the rallies go longer, they become faster. So, the experience was important for me to know how to modify my serve or return closer to the Games.”
Another major observation for Sathiyan from Japan was the experience of playing in huge arenas.
“It had been a long time since I played in a massive stadium and the size of the arena also makes a difference to the speed of the table,” noted Sathiyan.
“The arena we played in was almost the size of an Olympic hall, so playing in those conditions was also nice. Of course, the weather will be different when the Olympics happen, but it is nevertheless useful to have some idea of it.”
Sathiyan is now resting for a bit after a hectic schedule but he will likely be in the thick of action soon.
Plans for 2021
When approaching the Tokyo Olympics last year, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran had planned to measure the number of tournaments he plays in to maintain his ranking and ensure he did not burn himself out.
So, does he want to follow a similar plan of action this year? “Well, it is difficult to plan anything in these times, not many actually worked out,” laughed Sathiyan.
“But yeah, the idea is largely similar. I will definitely play more matches than I planned last year to get into a competitive rhythm but not so much that I tire myself out.”
The return to competition may mean another European sojourn could soon beckon for the Indian table tennis player.
“I may fly out to Poland again at the end of January to play a couple of matches in the league so that I am eligible to play if we make the playoffs. But I haven’t decided on it yet, I’ll have to look at the quarantine rules in Poland,” said Sathiyan.
Currently ranked world No. 37, Sathiyan will be looking to maintain that ranking when international competition begins in March with the Middle East Hub in Qatar.
“I will play in Qatar and hopefully be in good shape when the Asian Olympic qualification tournaments happen, I think in April. We’ll hardly have three months of international competition before the Olympics roll around, so let’s see how things pan out,” he signed off.