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Table Tennis

Feels like 2020 again: G. Sathiyan ready to lead at World Championships in China

Transported back to bio-bubble times in China where the aftermath of COVID-19 is still in the air, G. Sathiyan looks forward to leading the men's team in the absence of Sharath Kamal at the World Team Table Tennis C'Ships.

sathiyan gnanasekaran table tennis world championships

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is pumped up to lead the men's team at the World Table Tennis Team Championships 2022 (Source: WTT)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 28 Sep 2022 1:42 PM GMT

As the clock hands go ticking in Chengdu, India's top Indian paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran patiently waits - alone in his room, locked up in a bio-bubble once again, for the World Team Table Tennis Championships to begin on 30th September.

And the deja-vu of the pandemic days left behind hits him again, among other challenging things that lie over the next 10 days of competition, in the country that was the origin point of the COVID-19 virus.

"It's great to be back at the Mecca of world table tennis. No doubt, the arrangements in China are world-class but it's a strict bubble situation here, it feels like 2020 again," he mentions to The Bridge, fresh off a bronze medal win from the 36th National Games in the men's singles.

"We have to do RTPCR tests every day and accordingly, update our health status daily," the World No. 37 paddler informs, automatically reminding us of the tough two years from 2020-21.

"We had to take a chartered flight from Dubai to reach here, but we aren't following a quarantine though, yet all safety measures are being taken. We have everything needed to take care of us, and they have ensured that we don't face too many problems but it's obviously mentally tough for us," Sathiyan crisply states.

Sathiyan prepares to play first-time leader

However, the bio-bubble situation isn't the only thing to be apprehensive about for the Indian paddlers camping out in Chengdu - because, in a first, the World Team Table Tennis Championships will not be seeing India's most veteran paddler Sharath Kamal in the fray - which shifts the onus entirely on G. Sathiyan to fill the big shoes.

"This is the first time Sharath Anna is missing a major event and also the first time I am leading - but since we have spent a lot of time with him, we have learnt how to handle pressure and go about it," Sathiyan relays.
Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (Source: Getty)

"It's a huge loss to not have him in the team, he is such a great person to motivate. But I hope we can make up for it and put on our best show and win it for him at the World Championships," Sathiyan says, the confidence surging in his voice despite being aware of the stiff competition in their group where they are placed with table tennis powerhouses like Germany and France.

Having played a hectic part for India at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 where he won 4 medals - 3 golds, and 1 silver, Sharath Kamal decided to skip the World Team Table Tennis Championships, having announced it earlier this month itself.

"The Commonwealth Games was very tiring - we had to play a lot of matches but winning the silver in singles was very emotional," he says, also mentioning how incredible it was to win gold in the men's team event and clinch silver with Sharath in men's doubles too.

Upsets on the mind

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will hope to make big upsets at the Worlds (Source: WTT)

But at the World Championships, which is happening after a gap of four years, where the competition is going to be grave and the stakes higher, Sathiyan will have his work cut out for him as the leader.

"As a team leader, I would want to motivate and keep pushing the players to give their best. We are strong as a team and we can create some upsets. We finished 13th last time, we want to better that this time for sure," he says, content with the current team composition.

"I'm really lucky to have this experienced team with Harmeet, Sanil and a mix of youngsters like Manush and Manav. There is a great balance in the team, we can mix and match with a lot of players wherever necessary.

"After we see the draw, there will be a lot of planning and strategising will go on behind the scenes. After the CWG, the team bonding and morale is anyway high for these team events so we can surely pack a punch," Sathiyan assures.

At the World Team Table Tennis Championships, the format is simple - there are 32 men's and 28 women's teams who have been drawn into seven men's and six women's groups for single-round-robin play. The group winners and runners-up will progress to the knockout rounds while the best third-placed teams will also qualify to make 16 teams in the knockout phase.

Each tie will have best-of-five singles rubbers with best-of-five games contested and each team is allowed to name three players per tie, which will make matters readily interesting.

Planning to peak again

Having taken a little break to rest and recover post-CWG, Sathiyan is only finding his form again and in his own words, the National Games outing could have gone better for him.

"I'm happy to have won bronze in singles from the Games but I could have done better...and Harmeet (Desai) played really well. Obviously. I wanted to win gold but after the CWG, it was difficult and the National Games came in early. I was still not in full physical fitness.

"I had peaked during the few weeks of the CWG and it is anyway difficult to peak so often in such a quick span. But after taking the break, I went back to training with my coach, Raman Sir and working on my fitness again, so I am hoping I can create some big upsets at the World Team Table Tennis Championships," Sathiyan relays optimistically.

Moreover, the past few months have also given Sathiyan a fair share of learnings - all of which he plans to implement at the Worlds.

"From the CWG, I learnt how to handle pressure in the crunch moments, stay aggressive, and strategise well. I realized that I will have to mentally train more and also work on my aggressive game more," he summarised, ready to take on the new challenges ahead.

With 'big brother' Sharath Kamal away and China's Chengdu often reminding him of 2020 pandemic woes, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will have to buckle up and lead from the front as India opens their campaign, hoping to make their presence felt by producing quality upsets.

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