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Table Tennis

Armed with 'deadly combination', G. Sathiyan is hungry for medals at CWG 2022

Keen on medalling at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, revamped ace Indian paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran opens up on his rise and how he is keeping his calm amidst the chaos in Indian table tennis.

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran Table Tennis India Commonwealth Games TTFI

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (Source: WTT)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 5 July 2022 2:45 PM GMT

Just as impatiently as the clock hands tick, ace Indian table tennis player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is equally impatient to fly out to Birmingham, all guns blazing, ready to make some more history at the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which is a stone's throw away now.

If the 25-year-old Sathiyan Gnanasekaran on his debut at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games was unsure about how to channel his aggression and was still figuring out the ropes to tackle the big names, the older, mature one in 2022 has undergone a major transformation, make no mistake about that.

"I have been hitting my peak for a while now," the World No. 35 says with a swift chuckle to The Bridge, having wrapped up the day's practice session at Portugal where the Indian team bound for the Commonwealth Games is currently training.

Only in June when the whole of Indian table tennis was being rocked with chaos and controversy following the announcement of the teams for the CWG by the CoA-led Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and Sathiyan's own coach, Subramanium Raman, was also caught in the mesh - the paddler found it in him to remain calm and went on to upset the European Champion, Jorgic Darko in the first-round of the WTT Contender Zagreb in Croatia.

"Getting a win against someone like Darko, who is the World No. 6 and a reigning European Cup champion, just a month before the Commonwealth Games has given me a lot of confidence, which I plan to take forward in the upcoming tournaments in Budapest and then the big one in Birmingham," Sathiyan conveys, his voice very much leaking the enthusiasm he has for the month ahead.

If Sathiyan walked away with medals of every hue from the last CWG, Sathiyan has intentions of securing medals in all four events he will take part in this time - the singles, men's and mixed doubles and the team event.

"I'm a more experienced player now than in 2018. The 2018 CWG, Asian Games, and the Tokyo Olympics have taught me how to deal with pressure in multi-sporting events of this stature. It's a totally different kind of atmosphere and over the years I have learnt how to be calmer and more composed."

Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanaksekaran won silver at the 2018 CWG in Men's Doubles (Source: Getty)

"I had a lot of meetings and discussions with my coaches post the Tokyo Olympics outing and we realized how important it is to have variety in your game with pace variations and implementing more power in my strokes and being more aggressive from the get-go," Sathiyan informs, having found a new strategy to his game now that is leading him to positive results regularly.

"It's important to have aggression to play at the top level. I have become more aggressive on the table hence - the focus is to serve really well, hit a quality return and get the first ball in," he mentions, revealing how he has also worked extensively on his fitness levels with Ramji Srinivas in this period, all of which is contributing to the peak.

"With my new-found aggression and my consistent baseline game, I feel like this will be a deadly combination to take on the big names and cause an upset," Sathiyan, his voice surging with confidence, conveys.

Privilege of pressure

Despite the storm surrounding Indian table tennis at present, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has marvellously made it a point to keep his cool and focus on the larger picture instead.

"I try to focus on my controllable's because certain things are beyond my reach, like the team selections," he explains, mentioning how it was difficult to keep his mind absolutely on the table with so much going on all around as players were rushing to the courts with writ petitions questioning their exclusion from the CWG-bound Indian table tennis team.

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran rejoices after defeating Jorgic Darko (Source: WTT)

"Despite all this, I put up a great show at Zagreb, I managed to focus on my game. It wasn't easy but that is how I have trained myself as a player. I can't let external factors affect the game," he rationally puts forward, stressing how doing yoga and meditation has also helped him retain his cool and calm in tense situations.

"This time, the expectations are big from us but I believe pressure is a privilege. If people are expecting, it must mean we are good and hence the pressure happens but honestly, it's a privilege to be seen in this regard and it's up to us how we handle it."

With India reaping 8 medals from the Gold Coast CWG, the expectations will obviously be sky-rocketing this time especially with Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, the World No. 6 mixed doubles pair, perfectly primed for gold as well.

"Manika and I started playing after Tokyo and in a short span of time, we have been able to break into the Top 10, which is quite incredible. We complement each other really well on the table and have combined nicely, which has played a big factor in us winning. It's a surprise to reach this rank, for the both of us," Sathiyan says with a chuckle, well aware of the strong competition they can face from England, Singapore and Nigeria.

However, Sathiyan is unsure if they can repeat the 8-medals-and-more act but hopes they can come close to it, given the team composition of the overall men's and women's squad, which has relatively newer faces.

"This time the men's side is more experienced. We have a good gold medal chance in Mixed and Men's doubles and for the Men's Team, we would like to defend our title as well," he says with a positive stance.

"In fact, I missed out on the singles medal last time by a whisker as I lost in quarters. This time I would like to also medal in singles, personally," he adds in quickly to the wishlist he intends to tick off in less than a month's time.

Looking to put all the commotion raging in Indian table tennis behind them, the team, along with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will now work with one focus - medalling at the CWG 2022, "We will be putting everything aside and we'll play as Team India and pile up as many medals," Gnanasekaran mentions, confident and ever-ready to cause big upsets, letting his aggressive yet calm self take the reins as he gets set to enter game mode.

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