Sathiyan Gnanasekaran: the only way is up for Indian table tennis star

From being a world no. 170 during Rio 2016, G Sathiyan has now emerged as one of India’s strongest hopes ahead of the Tokyo Games.

Ace Indian table tennis player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, who became the first paddler from the country to break into the top-25 of the ITTF rankings in 2019, believes that he will be in even better form next year.

The 27-year-old paddler approached the Olympic year with an impressive run, where he won the silver medal at the Hungarian Open alongside Achanta Sharath Kamal in February.

His current world ranking of 31 would have been enough to see him qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as well before the coronavirus outbreak postponed the Games by a year.

However, the setback hasn’t deterred Sathiyan’s determination as the Indian table tennis player is confident of getting even better by 2021.

“I would take it as a positive that I now have one more year to prepare myself for the Olympics, and I feel I will be in an even better form in 2021,” G Sathiyan told the Times of India.

“Pretty sure of hitting a much higher peak and going to the Olympics in much better shape than now,” he added.

From staying out of the reckoning during the 2016 Olympics, when he was world no. 170, Sathiyan has gone from strength to strength over the last few years to become India’s biggest table tennis hopes.

And the athlete is banking on this rising trend to qualify for the Tokyo Games and excel in his future endeavours.

“Of course, I had almost virtually qualified with the kind of world ranking (31st) I had and the flow I was in,” the Chennai athlete pointed out.

“But as you have seen my graph, I have kept improving from 2017 to 2019, and the 2020 (table tennis season) is yet to start. So, I am only getting better,” he added.

Qualifying for the Olympics is one thing, stepping on the podium, however, is another. And Sathiyan knows that.

“It is going to be very challenging to win an Olympic medal in Tokyo," he admitted during an Instagram Live session with Sportstar. “It’s a herculean task for sure.”

Learning controlled aggression

Taking over the baton from veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan has been the rising force of Indian men’s table tennis.

While experience has played a significant role in his maturity, G Sathiyan credits coach S Raman for bringing across the change in his playing mindset.

“He (Raman) has made a huge transformation in my game, turning me from a passive and a controlled player to an aggressive player,” G Sathiyan said.

“He made sure I developed a lethal combination of having a good defence and a good attack. Under him, I improved on the technical front, serve and receive,” the Asian Games medallist added.

G Sathiyan made headlines earlier last month by getting his hands on a robot - the Butterfly Amicus Prime – to act as a sparring partner and keep him sharp during the lockdown.

One month later, the athlete has seemingly outdone the customized piece of art that could spew out more than 100 balls each minute at varying speeds and spin ties.

“I have been playing with it so much that sometimes the machine heats up, it also needs a break,” G Sathiyan revealed.

“The robot is not able to take it and keeps getting tired,” he added.

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