The national table tennis final was nothing but heartbreak for Gnanasekaran Sathiyan. He’s been there three times, but never managed to win the shock at the top. On Tuesday he reached his fourth. And to Achanta Sharath Kamal, the Indian No. 1, he would face his toughest compatriot.
After six grueling matches, Sathiyan finally got Match Point. Championship point. And when he clinched his very first title in the 82nd edition of the event, he waved to his paddle, then his jersey, then shook hands with his opponent – a man who has won the event nine times. . On the sidelines of the Tau Devi Lal sports complex, Sathiyan’s coach S Raman – himself a four-time national champion – had started to tear himself apart, while the 28-year-old took his time soaking up the feat after its 4-2. (11-6, 11-7, 10-12, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8) win the men’s singles event.
“I’ve been trying to win the national title for a long time,” Sathiyan tells The Indian Express.
“I reached three finals and three semi-finals, and I think this victory is very close to my heart. The achievements of the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games are far more important than that, but it was a childhood dream and it will be a memory to always cherish.
Chennai-lad had taken a 2-0 lead over the 38-year-old, who is ranked 32 in the world, only for the veteran to improve procedures.
“I got a little carried away after two games and after the fourth game, I told myself not to think about the final,” Sathiyan explains. “Sharath was playing a good short game, but my forehand and my shots worked well for me and I’m glad I was able to get rid of this monkey.
A powerful forehand was not invisible in Sathiyan’s repertoire. But he showed the shot has only gotten bigger since he worked on it during the lockdown. And with a further modification of its paddle, it became an even more powerful weapon.
Perhaps that explains why he typed it after winning the title.
New rubber, bigger forehand and delicate serves
Lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced Sathiyan to move away from competitive table tennis, but it gave him a chance to develop his physique. He worked on improving his fitness with his physio Ramji Srinivasan, while Raman began to develop a new strategy to improve his game.
“For a long time, I knew my forehand wasn’t up to the task and I worked to bring more brush and spin,” Sathiyan says.
“So I changed the rubber I use for the Dignics 09C. It’s a bit stickier, so it has the friction to generate more spin. It’s also a hard rubber, so it offers more rhythm.
To get more effects, that means a lot of work on the wrist.
“I had to put more strain on my wrists and the extra physical work in the gym helped me adjust to the demands of the new bat,” he adds.
Raman, however, had taken it upon himself to make sure that his ward brought greater variations in service. Over the past few years, the duo would not have had much time to devote to training due to the busy tour schedule. It’s the same since the resumption of play and Sathiyan went to the Polish and Japanese leagues to practice his profession.
In the short break that followed, Raman had prepared a special training program.
“This time, my first goal was to change his service profile. We have had detailed discussions on how it will serve and render service. Then we went through various service motions, ”says the 51-year-old coach.
“Whether it’s rotation, rotation or angle, we’ve studied every aspect and developed different styles for it. The most important thing was to make him serve as a left-hander and we worked on improving the banana return (curve). The way he defines his forehand attack was key and the new rubber gives him better control and impact to do this, in addition to playing deceptive shots, ”says Raman.
Nationals finished, Olympic qualifications then
Over the past few years, Sathiyan has risen rapidly through the ranks. The current world No.37 has reached 24 – the best for an Indian – and even reached a World Cup quarter-final, in 2019.
All of this, however, was to prepare for a race at the Tokyo Olympics. And he continued to explore different avenues to help him prepare as much as possible for the quadrennium, even in July.
Trips to Poland, where he played for Sokolow SA Jaroslaw, helped him get back into the groove. But a stint in Japan, where he played for the Okayama Rivets, allowed him to rub shoulders with players like world No.4 Tomokazu Harimoto and former No.21 Masataka Morizono).
“Spending time with someone like Koki Nawa and seeing Harimoto and other top players made me understand how players like them approach the game. They focus more on the quality of the shots than on more balls and that has helped me change my mindset, ”he says.
There is still the prospect of an Olympic qualification that Sathiyan must address before he can book another ticket to Tokyo.
In March, he will take part in two world table tennis competitions in Doha, followed by the world and Asian Olympic qualifiers at the same location.
Raman, meanwhile, has already planned what the focus should be: “increasing the range of shots, improving the short game and the counterattack.
But Sathiyan now has a spring in his step. After all, he managed to win a title that repeatedly eluded him. And beating the Evergreen Sharath in the final made the title all the more prestigious for him.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from indianexpress.com