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Asian Games 2018

How Sathiyan Gnanasekaran turned around defeats to create Table Tennis history

How Sathiyan Gnanasekaran turned around defeats to create Table Tennis history
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By

Deepshikha Chatterjee

Published: 29 Aug 2018 7:03 AM GMT
On 26th August, a familiar feeling of dread started setting in India's Table Tennis contingent. This was the fear that usually comes in when you are unable to meet the expectations of the people around you. This is the same feeling of hopelessness that comes when you know that you would now be the subject of ridicule and labels like "one tournament wonder". August 26 was the day the Indian Men's Table Tennis team lost out very closely in their group stage tie vs Chinese Taipei. When it all boiled down to the deciding match, the burden of seeing India through fell, poetically, on India's star player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. Before playing the decider, India had been locked in an unending battle with the equally resolute paddlers of Chinese Taipei. Every match was further proof that both countries wanted the tie to go in their favour, neither was willing to give up. The eternal Sharath Kamal had already defeated Lin Yunju by a convincing 3-1 margin. And then, it was Sathiyan's turn. Stepping on the field, knowing that the hopes and dreams of an entire country are tied up to how you play for the next few, decisive minutes, the thoughts that must go through your head must be tumultuous. You know you have your task cut out for you when your opponent, the one standing between you and that moment of relieved glory, happens to be ranked 14th in the world. In that moment, what would you do? Sathiyan Gnanasekaran must have had a human moment in the face of the monumental task that was ahead of him. For a minute, just a minute, a loss of focus meant a decline in the game overall- although, he did not go out quietly. He bowed out struggling with a 12-10, 11-9, 11-9 scoreline. But it was okay. He would get another shot to redeem himself against yet another Taipei player. This time, it would be the World No 16. Now, consider this. What if you squandered away that second shot as well? Having been hailed a hero, celebrated as India's top-ranked paddler until very recently, after being credited with being one of the primary reasons that popularised the sport of Table Tennis back in India- what do you do with two back-to-back losses? "
The losses had demotivated Sathiyan quite a lot,
" says Subramanium Raman- his long-term personal coach in a candid conversation with The Bridge. "There comes ups and downs in a playing career. But some losses are powerful." Raman was not a part of the official contingent that was cleared by the IOA to travel to Jakarta. Despite this, he was not ignored. His influence on Sathiyan's game has been immense, and the paddler himself has been quoted on several occasions as saying that his play has been transformed since he chose Raman as his mentor and ally. Estimating the importance of his presence, the Tamil Nadu state government made preparations for the former National Champion Table Tennis player to travel to Jakarta- just so that he could see his 25-year old ward compete in his first ever Asian Games. "
Before the tie against Japan, the biggest test was to get his winning mentality back. Mental toughness plays a huge part if you are to win major matches and become a champion everyone remembers,
" Raman continues. No one can say that this bit of wisdom did not work for Sathiyan. Come August 27, India would remember him for the champion that he indeed is as he went up against the World No 28. Armed with the confidence that can only be instigated by someone who knows him as a player inside out, Sathiyan took to the table in a calm and composed way. Three games later, he had done it. He had gotten back his retribution and his game. The heartbreaking losses against Taipei were just a learning lesson now. The battle was won, but a more significant obstacle remained.
He still had another match to win before India could be confirmed of a medal.
Roughly at around 8.30pm Indian time, Sathiyan etched his name in history. And he did it in style- by defeating the 19th ranked player of the world in a 4-game match. https://twitter.com/sathiyantt/status/1034157205992353792 For the first time in 60-years, Indian Table Tennis had a medal at the Asiad. Memories of the Commonwealth Games came flooding back to the minds of the Indians watching back home. They remembered the unexpected glory achieved in Gold Coast. They understood that they were watching history being made. And along with his teammates, Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai, was all down to this one man- the man who battled his demons, the man who would be king. The man named Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. "It just made me happy that I could celebrate the moment with him," says Raman in passing. "You just knew that this was something special."
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