Every time G. Sathiyan wins a match, the arena fills with thunderous cries of joy from the Indian paddler, which is invariably followed by a punch in the air. The Indian table tennis star dreams of doing this very signature celebration on his maiden Olympic voyage to the Tokyo Games, which begin on July 23.
Currently training in a hall on the roof of his home in Chennai, the 28-year-old has a good chance of doing so - courtesy of his Japan connection.
The spindly paddler has left no stone unturned to ensure he remains in the best shape possible going into the Olympics.
“I've got the multifunctional trainer, which is one of the high-end equipment and covers almost everything. I have also got some weights in a mini-gym I have set up in my home. I want to keep up with the fitness levels heading into the Olympics,” he told Sportskeeda.
He is eager to be pitted against world No.4 Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan at Tokyo. This is where G. Sathiyan’s Japan connection will come into play.
What is G. Sathiyan's Japan connection?
While athletes across the globe found it difficult to train during the pandemic, G. Sathiyan was busy analyzing his opponents in Japan. In October 2020, after a forced seven-month break caused by Covid-19, he flew to Japan to play for the Japanese T-league team Okayama Rivets. He was the first Indian paddler to feature in the League.
G. Sathiyan says playing in Japan was like "pre-Olympic preparation". Prior to this, he had had a successful stint in Poland which he described as being of a "different flavor" and taking part in the Japan T-league was the "icing on the cake".
“The Japanese league is the toughest league I have ever played in. Most of the players are ahead of me in the rankings. Playing with the best in Japan six months before the Olympics was like pre-Olympic preparation for me. It gave me a lot of confidence. I learnt a lot by playing against players ranked in the top-10 in the world. It helped me in going to the next level of the game. Heading to the Olympics, I will take a lot of cues from what I learned back in Japan last year,” G. Sathiyan said.
He put his newly learnt knowledge to the test at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers and returned with a quota to represent the country at the Tokyo Olympics. The three other paddlers part of the Indian table tennis contingent are Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee.
Japan is one of the powerhouses in Table Tennis alongside China, Germany and South Korea. Sathiyan believes the reason behind Japan’s success in the sport is its solid grassroots system.
G. Sathiyan said that in Japan, players and coaches are given proper education to help them achieve overall growth. They have a separate syllabus for beginners, intermediates and advanced level players. Sathiyan feels India will soon emerge as a global powerhouse if it too can adopt a similar system.
“Japan has a great solid grassroots system as well they have a massive National Centre infrastructure with a lot of players playing at one place. They have a system (for coaches) like a syllabus. There is a syllabus for beginners, intermediate and also an advanced level, like in China. They keep revisiting it and make changes to it according to the need to provide the players and coaches with the latest knowledge. And, of course, the infrastructure they have built is massive,” the world number 37 said.
G. Sathiyan adds that the Japan exposure tour helped him explore new areas of the game.
G. Sathiyan picks match preparation techniques from Japan
G. Sathiyan, who is also an engineering graduate, is one of the most innovative athletes in the country. He does not shy away from experimenting and learning new techniques in his quest to become the best, almost like a scientist.
G.Sathiyan's passion for improvement and experimentation reached new heights during his time in the 'Land of the Rising Sun'.
“The way they train is fantastic. They don't train like robots and instead, there is a lot of science going behind what they do. They train a lot on specific skills which they think will play an important role in an upcoming match or competition. They do this very almost every day. So, that was something I learnt. Now, I also train very specific skills and practise it regularly,” the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist said.
The Chennai-born paddler will be chasing history at the Tokyo Olympics. If he manages to win a medal at the Games, he would become the first Indian to do so in table tennis. But to achieve this, he should be aware of his shortcomings. And he does so.
G. Sathiyan has been working on his power game since the lockdown. He has built a mini-gym for strength training and even uses a ping pong robot for it. While speed and agility are his strength, his power game is the “x-factor" in his craft.
“I've been working a lot on my power game. Speed and agility have always been my strength and I've been playing well. But I need to improve my power game. While speed and agility are important, having strength gives you an edge. It's like a masala, a depth in the strokes. I need that and I am reaching closer to that level. Then there is serves and variations - these two areas will be my focus. I hope I can be a much improved and a better player when heading to the Olympics," G. Sathiyan said.
With no competitions lined up from now to the Tokyo Olympics, G. Sathiyan plans to travel to Europe or Asia for a two-week camp. He believes it would freshen things up a little for him, but he would want to return home before leaving for Tokyo.
“If things get better, I would also want to have a 10-day stint somewhere in Europe or somewhere or Asia. I'm looking at that window in June end to get that different flavor of matches and travel. But I would only want to go to the Olympics from Chennai only,” G. Sathiyan said, signing off.