Sathiyan Gnanasekaran becomes first Indian to join Japan's T-League

The move falls in line with coach S Raman’s desire to see Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in the thick of Japanese competition.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran announced on Saturday that he will become the first Indian table tennis player to play in T-League, Japan's premier table tennis league, where he will be representing the Okayama Rivets during the 2020-21 season.

Aside from his duties with the national squad, the 27-year-old has been playing for German club Grünwettersbach in the Bundesliga for over two years.

Greener pastures of Asia

The decision to leave the Bundesliga and join the T-League falls in line with his coach S Raman's desire to see Sathiyan Gnanasekaran shift base to Asia.

“Asian countries dominate the table tennis world and I started receiving a lot of offers ever since I beat Japanese wonder boy and world No. 5 Tomokazu Harimoto in the Asian Championship," Sathiyan told Times of India.

The relatively-nascent T-League got underway two years ago and has fast become a hotbed of table tennis competition, and the league is set to grow bigger, as Sathiyan explained to Sportstar, “There are currently four clubs in the league with talks about expansion already in place… I have signed up for 12 matches.”

As of now, participants include Japan's Tomokazu Harimoto, China's Lin Yun-Ju and South Korea's Lee Sangsu, ranked fifth, sixth and 20th in the world respectively.

"I believe playing against top paddlers is always a challenge but then if you don't compete against them, your game will never improve," said the Arjuna Award winner.

Tokyo 2020 and beyond

Ranked 30th in the world and highest among his fellow Indian players, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has been one of the brightest beacons on the Indian table tennis scene.

While the recent failure of India to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 team event was a disappointment shared by Sathiyan Gnanasekaran as well, his 30th ranking puts him in good stead to make it to the singles event.

The 27-year-old Sathiyan Gnanasekaran credits his rise in the rankings to his stint in the German league, while also hoping the move to T-League brings with it further ascension.

"That's why I joined the Bundesliga,” he explained. “From world No. 70, I became No. 24 in just two years. The sole purpose behind joining T-League is to be in the top 10 in the next few years and evolve as a player before 2024 Olympics."

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran's association with Grünwettersbach will end in June 2020 and he will join Okayama Rivets in September, soon after the conclusion of the upcoming edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis league in his home nation.