Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is helping put Indian table tennis on the world map.
The paddler from Chennai created history a few months back after he became the first Indian men’s singles player to break into the world’s top 25 rankings. Sathiyan, however, believes that this new landmark is just the start for him.
“It’s a great privilege to be the first Indian to break into the top 25 in international table tennis, but I think this is just the beginning and it is not a surprise for me personally and my team. We have been working constantly to be there and I think this will set a good benchmark for the future table tennis generation,” said Sathiyan in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.
“When I started training with Raman sir (Subramaniam Raman) back in 2012, he told me that he was looking to make the top 50 rankings. I laughed at that time because it sounded really funny to me because I was ranked 412th in the world,” revealed Sathiyan, who was recently named as the Athlete of the Year by GoSports Foundation at their conclave in Mumbai.
The paddler was juggling between playing professionally for the country and finishing his engineering degree back then and struggled to find any form or consistency with his table tennis. He was languishing in the lower echelons of the ranking pyramid, but coach Raman’s personalised training helped turn things around.
“We had a very clear process in mind. We have constantly been improving on my game, learning new techniques, trying out new things and bringing surprises to the opponents every time I step onto the field. I think it has been a great journey; we have focused on a lot of different aspects of the sport.
“We made a very good diet program, a very good fitness program and we brought in a mental conditioning coach, which really helped me play my game to my optimum capacity. We brought a lot of sports science into the game with proper process and techniques, and that journey has been excellent. I’ve been really enjoying sport and looking forward to getting into single-digit ranking,” revealed Sathiyan.
Sathiyan and his support network
Apart from his coach’s personalised involvement, Sathiyan believes that the continuous support of the Indian government and the federation has played a major role in improving his game in the recent past, elevating the stature of table tennis in the country.
“The federation has started giving us a lot of exposure along with the Sports Authority of India. We’ve started going to a lot of foreign training camps and international tournaments. The experience of playing matches has increased considerably and the advent of the Ultimate Table Tennis league has definitely helped us gain more confidence going into tournaments,” said Sathiyan.
Road ahead for Sathiyan
The top-ranked Indian paddler has had a year to remember, causing a few upsets in major competitions and performing admirably at his maiden ITTF World Cup outing. Sathiyan beat fifth-ranked Tomokazu Harimoto at the Asian Table Tennis Championships earlier this year and also gave a tough fight to veteran German paddler Timo Boll at the World Cup.
The 26-year-old now has his eyes set of the 2020 Tokyo Games and revealed that the Indian team is looking to train in different countries to prepare for the Olympics.
“At the end of 2019, we will be going to Korea to train with the Koren national team. After that, we will be going to Dusseldorf, Germany for a week which will be followed by the Olympic qualifiers; a big tournament in Portugal.
“With the world ranking here, I have virtually qualified for the singles but we want to make the cut in the team qualification event as well because India has never played the Olympics as a team. The Indian team has been doing really well and we are very positive, so with all those good things happening, we are confident of making the cut as soon as possible. Not only making it to the Olympics but winning a medal is also very exciting,” said Sathiyan before signing off.