“In my childhood days, I used to play table tennis against the wall in my house; and I used to name (the wall) as top table tennis players and would imagine beating them. Timo Boll was one amongst those and then actually playing him in a World Cup game was definitely a dream come true,” reminisces Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, while talking to the Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview.
Idolising the veteran German paddler during his formative years, it was truly a moment to savour for India’s top-ranked table tennis player Sathiyan when he faced Timo Boll in the men’s World Cup in China. But that, however, wasn’t the first time that the paddler from Chennai was meeting his idol.
Training camp memories
“I still remember four years back I had a training opportunity with him (Boll). I was ranked 120th in the world but he was still happy to play with me, and he posted on his Instagram something like ‘an upcoming top player who will soon break into top 100,” recalled Sathiyan on one of his first meetings with the legendary German paddler.
“I reminded him of that when we met at the World Cup and he replied saying ‘I knew you would make it really big and I could see it in you.’ He’s a really down to earth person and comes down to everyone to give his advice and suggestions,” added Sathiyan.
Since those training days, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has made massive leaps and strides in his professional career. He bagged the silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the men’s doubles category, partnering up with Achanta Sharath Kamal. Sathiyan was also part of the Indian men’s team that won gold at that competition.
The past season has also been rewarding for Sathiyan, as he became the first Indian in 43 years to reach the quarterfinals of the Asian Table Tennis Championships. He also broke into the top 25 rankings this year and culminated his campaign with a dream run on his debut World Cup appearance.
Solid World Cup display
After beating French paddler Simon Gauzy and Danish star Jonathan Groth in the preliminary rounds of the competition, Sathiyan set up a clash with the man who once inspired him to take up table tennis, realising his childhood dream.
Pitted against none other than Timo Boll his first knockout match, Sathiyan started off brilliantly as he picked up the first set against the German. Boll, however, recovered brilliantly in the match, bringing his best to the table as he went on to win 4-1.
Sathiyan, however, took great heart from that performance, knowing that he had really challenged the former world number one on the day.
“It was a fantastic match with Timo. I started aggressively because I know he is very intelligent and his experience is almost my age, so he had a lot of techniques which are very difficult to adapt. His placements are one of the best in the world but my aggressive approach surprised him in the first game.
“I think I gave him a good fight. The fourth set was also close, so even Timo Boll could not take me lightly and he had to bring in his top-level game to beat me. So that gives me a lot of confidence knowing that the top players are forced to play at their best level to beat me,” elaborated Sathiyan on his legendary game with his idol.”
The Indian paddler has come a long way since looking up to the greats of table tennis as a kid to actually challenging them on the international stage, becoming the next flagbearer for the sport in the country as Tokyo 2020 draws closer.