Interview with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran: "I am working hard to fulfill my childhood dream to qualify for the 2016 Olympics"
Not everyone will be familiar with India’s latest sensation in Table Tennis, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, who is on his way to make history in the world of Table Tennis. He, along with Ankita Das recently made history by becoming the first Indian pair to win a Gold medal in a Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship (2015 edition).
He followed it by finishing as the runner-up in the 2016 National Table Tennis Championships in Hyderabad. En route to the Silver at the National championships, he defeated India’s number 1 paddler and 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Achanta Sharath Kamal in the semi-finals.
Having made a successful transition from the junior’s circuit to the top level, Sathiyan eyes more glory. Ranked 170 in the World, he aims at making it to the top-100 at the end of this year.
Here is an exclusive interview with India’s rising Table Tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran:
Question: How does it feel to represent India at the highest level?
Answer: It has always been my dream to wear that T-shirt with INDIA printed on the back. It feels really special to be amongst the best 5 in a country with more than a billion population.
Q: Sharath Kamal is your idol. You recently beat him in the semi-finals of the National TT championship. What was going through your mind when you got the better of him?
A: It was one of my best ever wins in my sporting career so far. Though I and my coach worked out a strategy, I went on to the table with zero expectations and I also knew he was under immense pressure as he was playing in India after a couple of years and also he hasn’t played me for quite a long time.
I started well and the moment I took the first game, I knew I had my chances today and capitalized it. After the win, I felt like I have accomplished a huge milestone in my life and was too excited to even think of anything. It took some time for me to realize that I have actually beaten the legend Sharath Kamal in straight sets.
Q: India has some young TT players like you, Soumyajit Ghosh, Harmeet Desai etc. Do you think whether India can become a force to reckon with in TT?
A: Definitely. We guys won the bronze in the World Junior Championships (team event) in 2011 in Bahrain for the first time ever and it was an eye-opener for everyone. I think we three have performed quite well on the international scene and quickly rose up even to the senior level at a young age.
The understanding and team spirit between us is just amazing and I feel with the help of seniors and coaches, we can do wonders on the world level. Our aim is to break into Top-10 in the Team world ranking.
Q: You are more of a consistent and counterattacking player. What are the areas you think you need to work on?
A: Yes, that’s my natural style. I have been working a lot on taking initiatives to attack first and I feel I have improved a lot in that aspect. I need to improve a lot on my serves and also physical strength so that I impart more power in my strokes.
Q: Recently you and Ankita Das won the Gold in commonwealth championships. How did you both feel when you achieved this feat?
A: This win was a complete shocker as we both played for the first time together and winning even a medal was a distant dream for us. We being the first Indian pair to achieve this feat was truly a great moment.
I was too delighted that I just couldn’t sleep the entire night. This win will always be close to my heart as it was the first tournament after the demise of my dad and even Ankita would have felt the same way. It was a very emotional moment for both of us.
Q: What are your targets for the season?
A: The immediate aim is to win the SAF Games to be held in Shillong from Feb 6th and then to win Gold in the World Team Championships 2nd division to be held in Kuala Lumpur next month. I am also working hard to fulfill my childhood dream to qualify for the forthcoming Olympics and want to break into Top-100 by this year.
Q: Most memorable match in your career
A: It’s really difficult to pick one such match. These are the matches that will stay close to my heart.
a) My most memorable win will be against the then world no. 63 Par Gerell from Sweden. It was my first win against a top-100 player and that too the win came in my debut World Championships (held in China in 2015) made it even sweeter.
b) The win against my idol Sharath Kamal in the Nationals recently.
c) It was also my dream to win against a top Chinese player. In Asian juniors held in Bangkok in 2010, I won against the then world no. 6 Yin hang from China.
d) In 2009 Asian juniors in Jaipur, I beat World Junior champion Niwa Koki from Japan.
Q: Apart from TT, what all sports you follow?
A: I am a big time sports lover. I follow Tennis regularly (never miss Roger’s matches). I used to follow a little of EPL and Champions league before, being a fan of Manchester United.
And of course, like every Indian kid, I used to watch a lot of cricket in my childhood days. But hardly find time to watch it these days with my hectic schedule. But I make sure I don’t miss Roger’s matches. I used to love playing Basketball & Badminton in leisure time in my school days.
Q: Your sporting idols?
A: Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, JO Waldner, Dimitrij Ovtcharov & Sharath Kamal.
Q: Who is one player you would want to emulate?
A: I would like to create a style of my own. Table tennis is such a dynamic sport that it's very difficult to follow a certain style of any particular player. But I really like the playing style of Olympic Bronze medalist from Germany Ovtcharov Dimitrij and I have picked a lot of insights from his game which might suit me. I am also a big fan of him.