After his steady ascent, table tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran is focused on the Olympics next year
One of Sathiyan Gnanasekaran’s favourite games as a child was to practise his table tennis skills against the walls of his home in Chennai.
One of Sathiyan Gnanasekaran’s favourite games as a child was to practise his table tennis skills against the walls of his home in Chennai. Each wall was named after a player he looked up to, one of them being the former World No. 1 Timo Boll.
In November this year, Sathiyan had the opportunity to play the German in real life at the World Cup in Chengdu. By then, he had beaten the higher-ranked Simon Gauzy and Jonathan Groth. He picked up the first game against Boll, but, eventually, went down 1-4 in the Round of 16.
As he wrapped up his kit, he heard the Chinese spectators break into a rousing applause. He turned to look at Boll but realised that his opponent was long gone and the appreciation was for him. “He’s a legend and has a huge fan following in China, so I didn’t know how to react. But it was really satisfying to know that my fight had been appreciated-a very special moment for me,” says Sathiyan.
Having moved from outside the top-100s to a career-best ranking of World No. 24 in April, the 26-year-old, once known for his measured, defensive approach, has transformed into an attack-minded player under coach S. Raman. “I was averse to taking risks because that’s how I was brought up. My father’s demise in 2015 changed me and made me play like I had nothing to lose,” he says.
After winning with the Indian team at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018, Sathiyan put on stellar performances this year. A sixth-placed finish at the Asian Cup helped him qualify for his first World Cup. He also made a semi-final appearance at the ITTF Challenge Plus in Oman, finished runners-up at the Commonwealth Championships and a fifth-placed finish at the Asian Championships, where he defeated World No. 5 Tomokazu Harimoto. “He was taken aback when I started aggressively,” he says.
For now, all his focus is on the Olympics next year. Later this month, Sathiyan will travel to South Korea where he will train with the men’s national team. “Back in the day, they would say that they played an Indian guy but they now say I was up against (Achanta Sharath) Kamal or Sathiyan or (Harmeet) Desai. It’s a huge improvement. We will surely make it to the Olympics and the pressure will be on the big players from China, Japan and Korea,” says Sathiyan. n
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