World No. 30 Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and India's top-ranked paddler has started his preparations in full swing for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, he feels that having a foreign coach will help India immensely ahead of International tournaments, which they are devoid of, as of now.
Sathiyan Gnanasekaran created history by becoming the top-ranked Indian player in the world as per the latest International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) listing earlier this year by hitting as high as the 24th spot. The current World No. 30 is at the peak of his career, but there is a lot to achieve for the paddler at a time which is supposed to the ‘golden era’ of Table Tennis in India.
With the world championships around the corner and the Tokyo Olympics scheduled next year, the players need to push harder to get the desired results. Sportscafe caught up with Sathiyan, who shared his thoughts while he was on his tour in Germany to play in the Bundesliga.
The Table Tennis star is confident that India will stage a few upsets in the Olympics next year. “We are on the right track and a big threat to top countries in the world, a medal is definitely at sight if we push the limits and keep working at it,” admitted Sathiyan.
His personal preparations are in full swing for the mega event, a roadmap is being followed strictly, monitored by his personal trainer. Regarding the matter, he said, “The preparations are going great. Made a full roadmap till Olympics 2020 with my coach Raman sir with a mix of high-level training in Asia and playing some matches in German Bundesliga as well. I will be playing a lot of pro-tour events also on the run to the Olympics.
"The 26-year old mentioned that having foreign coaches will help Indian players immensely ahead of the major tournaments. “I think it would be quite helpful, the planning, the administration, with that efficiency that our former coach did during his tenure, the camps which were held on time, the pro tours which were planned very well in lines with the federation, the players and the SAI. I think the momentum was very smooth, that will definitely help the system going very smoothly,” said Sathiyan.
Canadian Dejan Papic had been appointed as the coach of the Indian Table Tennis team which see him at the helm of affairs till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. After the Indian players had to do without a head coach since the 2018 Asian Games, it was important to get someone on board before the Olympic qualifiers. Papic penned down a one-year contract offered to him by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), but Papic's injury concern will not allow him to take charge of the team and the TTFI are looking for a new candidate altogether.
India have been performing exceptionally well in the past year or so, in the Asian games, and especially the Commonwealth Games, where they secured a top podium finish in the men’s team, women’s team, and the women’s individual events respectively. The recent rise in the form of the Indian players has been due to various factors, one of which is definitely due to the exposure the players are getting off late.
Throwing light into matter, Sathiyan addressed, “There are a lot of reasons. The support from the government had really improved, we have had a lot of exposure last year. Especially in the last couple of years, we have been playing a lot of International tournaments (14-15), which was never supported before by the Indian government. A lot of sponsors coming in, investing in the sport for us to undergo camps in Europe, in China. For me personally, I feel Raman sir made a huge transformation in me.”
“So that really helped me to make the difference in the game. Everyone else was also doing well in the junior level, they were playing a lot of tournaments, training in camps abroad, with support from the federation which really improved, the technology improved, the equipment knowledge, so I think there is a lot of factors. It was in the process of getting better and better and then it just showed up. Like Badminton, it just showed up once because of the coaching system which was followed. That is the same way how Table Tennis also got a good real system in place, especially after the foreign coach came in, there was a lot of things working really well,” concluded the paddler.
Due to the new wave in Indian Table Tennis, the people have now taken the sport more seriously. “There has been a huge paradigm shift, Table Tennis was always seen as a leisure sport and people used to say that they played in school or college, but it is actually an Olympic Sport and it’s been looked more professionally now, as a career option and playing it more seriously. There has been a wide outrage to the sport. Many have started playing the sport after the Commonwealth Games and that is a good thing to know. The numbers have gone up,” quoted the Commonwealth medallist.
The IPL-style franchise based leagues, which are in fashion these days have created a huge impact in badminton, hockey, rugby, and table tennis was no exception. The Ultimate Table Tennis was an instant hit, with top-class players featuring in the tournament, brushing shoulders with the local lads from India. The experience gathered by the Indian’s has been invaluable and Sathiyan feels that the UTT has not only helped the upcoming stars, but he himself has learnt a lot from it as well.
“The UTT (Ultimate Table Tennis) has played a huge role, definitely they have created a great platform. The top players of the world coming down to India was the first time in so many years. Previously, we used to go abroad, in Germany for the training camps, but now we have players coming here, training with them, learning with them, practising along with them, how they prepare,” admitted Sathiyan who idolises Rodger Federer as his role model.
He added, “So, that is huge take away for all the Indian youth players, the youth players. We could gain a lot and I think that also really helped me to play better in the International circuit, that gave me a very good boost in 2017 UTT when I was unbeaten. From there on, the graph started going very steep.” His equation with senior players like Sharath Kamal has been pretty good, they have given him valuable inputs to improve his game as a whole.
India is yet to make a mark in the World Championships or the Olympic Games, and that’s what the players need to aim in the near future. Sathiyan agreed that the Indian table tennis is enjoying its ‘golden era’ at the present moment but also added that a lot of work needs to be done to push the game to the next level. Scouting of players from the grassroots has to be done according to him, with a proper system which will conduct training camps and organise foreign tours.
Regarding the future roadmap of Indian Table Tennis, Sathiyan said, “There is a lot to be done actually, inside the country. There is a need to develop a proper system, just like the badminton system, we need good infrastructure, a huge stadium with a lot of Indian coaches, the foreign coach might be helpful but you need Indian coaches on board who will be given assignments. They will get exposure from foreign coaches as well. There should be a lot of players coming in, a lot of camps. Khelo India is a very good initiative.”
“There should be more like this, where they can take out talents and put them in camps with top-level coaches, train the coaches as well. Then take them to International camps for exposure and let them play tournaments. So, this has to be done from the grassroots level to the top level. Then there will be always a set of players coming really good and we can probably make a system like China in the future with a lot of players coming in, so the system has to keep going and it has just started. I hope, they can take it to the next level,” concluded the paddler who plays German Bundesliga side Grünwettersbach.
It is a busy year ahead for Sathiyan, with the World Championships beginning in Budapest from April 21. Apart from eyeing a fruitful display in the International event, his immediate target is to break into the top 15 of the world rankings. But he aspires to stand in the podium with the tri-colour flying in Tokyo next year, the Olympics is what every athlete dreams of achieving. Sathiyan will leave no stones unturned in the preparation for the mega event, so does his Indian compatriots. Hopefully, Table Tennis will bring back an Olympic medal for the first time ever in 2020!