In a country like India, a sport like Table Tennis has generally been considered more as a leisure activity than a vocation, alongside academics that were meant to be given a bigger importance.
Such was the case for Chennai-born paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran as well who took to table tennis early on, but on his parents’ advice decided to pursue engineering while practising the sport on the side.
Sathiyan was looking destined to pursue a Masters in engineering and work in that field, while maintaining table tennis as a hobby.
But that all changed when he met his first coach.
Subramaniam Raman, who himself was a former Indian table tennis player, managed to persuade the youngster to take up sports professionally. The Chennai lad’s decision was further shifted towards sports after he was awarded a scholarship by his state government which allowed him to focus on table tennis.
Sathiyan began his foray in junior table tennis competitions and nabbed a medal soon as he was part of the historic Indian team that won the bronze at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Bahrain.
Initially, however, the paddler struggled to make the transition from junior to senior level, with Sathiyan’s ranking well south of 100 in 2013. It was his coach Raman who once again came to his aid and took him on a one-month training camp in Germany.
The youngster also took advice from his mental-conditioning coach and physio and had a proper food plan in place as prepared by a dietician. He also began approaching the games more analytically by studying each opponent and started playing more aggressively. All these factors contributed in Sathiyan making massive improvements in his game.
Since 2016, Sathiyan has been a force to reckon with in the world of table tennis. He won his maiden Pro Tour title in September 2016 by defeating Germany’s Cedric Nuytinck 4-0 in the final of the Belgium Table Tennis Open.
He also did well in the Men’s Doubles category, partnering up with Sharath Kamal as the duo won bronze at the 2017 ITTF Major tournament in Sweden and followed that up with a silver in the ITTF Major tournament in Bulgaria a few months later.
The next challenge for the Chennai paddler for the 2018 Asian Games, where he faced some of the best in the sport from China, Japan, and South Korea.
Sathiyan may not have won any individual medals at that tournament, but was part of the Indian team that clinched the bronze in Jakarta.
A few months later, Sathiyan participated in his maiden Commonwealth Games and ended up winning a whopping three medals in that competition - a mixed doubles bronze, a men’s doubles silver and a gold in the team event.
A string of consistent performances elevated Sathiyan’s rank by almost 100 places in the span of a couple of years, and he is currently ranked 30th in the world as the Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 approaches.
The 26-year-old paddler is expected to participate in the 2019 ATTU Asian Championships in Indonesia next month in the men’s team category, with the winner of the tournament granted automatic qualification for the Olympics.
For his individual and mixed team events, Sathiyan will take part in the Asian qualifying tournament scheduled to take place in April next year where the top six paddlers will qualify for Tokyo 2020. It will be interesting to track his progress in his quest for Olympic glory.