Indian Table Tennis star, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan on the importance of fitness and the role of Fast&Up in his career
The Indian table tennis scene has never been better. With the men’s team breaking new ground by becoming the 9th ranked team in the world, everyone is starting to sit up and take notice. Leading the charge along with the experienced Achanta Sharath Kamal, has been the 26-year-old paddler from Chennai, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan.
Currently, ranked 30th in the world, Sathiyan has been at the forefront of some huge wins for India in the last few years. Wins against some top ranked players in the world and his consistent performances in the world tour have really given Indian TT fans belief and hope. Gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Championships and a historic bronze medal in the 2018 Asian Games have underlined the progress Sathiyan and Indian table tennis have made in the last few seasons.
A qualified engineer, the Chennai lad’s game underwent a huge transformation under the watchful guidance of former Olympian Subramaniam Raman. With an increased focus on fitness and nutrition, Sathiyan’s game has since gone from strength to strength.
We spoke to him about his career, how he trains and how important a role Fast&Up have played in helping him improve his fitness levels:
The Indian men’s table tennis team has broken into the top 10 of the world rankings! How has 2019 been personally for you as well as Indian table tennis in general?
I think it has been fantastic! Indian table tennis has constantly been on the rise. Great performances in the Commonwealth games, Asian Games and Commonwealth championships has helped India reach the highest team ranking it has ever achieved (WR 9). Not only the men’s team, the women’s team led by Manika Batra has been doing well and the junior teams have also put up fantastic performances in the last two Asian Junior Championships. You can see that there is a wholesome improvement in Indian table tennis. It is not just one Sharath Kamal or Gnanasekaran Sathiyan getting the results.
I have been really happy to be part of this era where everyone has been performing well. It has been a fantastic graph for me. Coming into the top 100 a couple of years ago, then breaking into the top 50 and top 25, I never thought I would come this far at such pace. Also, more important than the rankings for me personally, I have had some great wins over the top 20 players like beating WR 5 Tomokazu Harimoto in the Asian Championships. This gives me a sense of achievement, confidence and satisfaction when you beat the top players in the world.
The 2016/17 season was a turning point in your career. What changes did you make to your game and training regime?
I finished my engineering in 2014, so that freed me up. I had more time and energy to dedicate to the sport and I started practicing more. I had a whole transformation. My game was initially more safe and the aim was to put more balls on the table and not make too many errors. But when I joined Raman sir, he told me to just try to play 3 or 4 balls and ensure that the 5th ball does not come back. So, I changed my game to a more aggressive approach and started going for my shots.
Coming to the mental aspect of it, when my dad passed away at the end of 2015, it was a really difficult time. I missed out on a couple of important tournaments and the Olympics during that time. That made a huge difference, I started playing with the mentality of nothing to lose as I couldn’t lose anything more. A match is nothing compared to my father or family. I made a big change and started playing with aggression and nothing to lose attitude which has been very useful for my game.
With the Olympics coming up, have you planned any special training/camps keeping Tokyo 2020 in mind?
Yes, definitely! We have a series of camps coming up. I will be travelling to the World Cup which will be held from 29th Nov – 1st Dec in China. Also, the Chinese sparring partner I have will be coming today to Chennai so I will be practicing one week along with him. In December, I will spend 10 days in Germany and later a week in South Korea where I will be training with the Korean national team. This is the first time I will be going to an Asian country along with the national team to train there, so I will get a chance to practice with the best players. Before the Olympic qualifiers as well, we will be in Germany for a week and then we have the Olympic qualifiers at the end of January which will be a big tournament for all of us.
With TT there is a perception that physical fitness does not play a huge role. On an average how many hours a day do you spend for physical fitness?
At the highest level, table tennis is very very physical and demanding with the kind of schedule we have. I always spend around 90 minutes everyday for fitness. I have a customised plan and a proper physical trainer, Ramji Srinivasan, who was the Indian cricket team trainer. He makes a customised plan based on the tournaments I am playing. We have strength sessions, we have coordination sessions, agility and reflex sessions. We also have hybrid training where it is a mix of strength and agility. I work out 6 days a week and all these workouts are spread across the week according to which my practice sessions are fixed up.
How important a role does diet play in the life of a professional sportsman, especially in table tennis?
Immense role! Diet plays the most important role for any athlete I would say. I do have a dietician, Ryan Fernando, who has given me diet plans to follow from the last 5-6 years. We have been monitoring my heart rate, blood levels, sugar levels very regularly to keep a track of my body’s performance. We plan according to how my body is responding to different kinds of supplements. Its not a strict diet, its more of a correct diet where the right kind of food, nutrition and supplements are taken.
How have you incorporated Fast&Up nutritional supplements in your diet and how has that influenced your training regimen?
It is a wonderful product! It was first recommended by my nutritionist, Ryan one year back. Now that I am playing an aggressive game, the game has become more physical as I have to move around and attack a lot. Playing at the high level continuously, I could see that my energy levels were coming down. Suppose I played 3 tournaments back to back, by the time the 4th tournament came up, I would be tired. That Is when Ryan suggested me to try the Fast&Up reload. It was really good, I could see the difference in a couple of months. I was not getting tired as I used to. I could play longer in the practice sessions and especially in the matches it helped me a lot.
Have you noticed any changes in your training after you started using Fast&Up supplements? Which are your favourite products?
BCAA orange flavour and the Fast&Up Reload Berry flavour are the products I use the most. I really love the berry flavour and that has been my favourite till now. This has helped me sustain the kind of energy I wanted throughout the tournaments and even in back-to-back tournaments and matches it has been very effective. I also started having supplements with BCAA for faster recovery. When you start playing 13-14 international tournaments every year, it becomes very hectic and BCAA has really helped me in that. I really love the products they make and it is very easy to carry as it is travel friendly and athlete friendly.
Which has been your favourite victory so far in your career?
I would pick the win against Japanese player Tomokazu Harimoto as the best win of my career. It was my first victory against a top 5 ranked player, so it was a massive win. For me, that victory gave a lot of confidence that I am up to this level and I can definitely beat even the top 10 players. So that win gave me a lot of confidence. The win against Chinese player and Youth Olympics gold medallist, Wang Chuqin was also a very very big win for me. He is already among the top players in the world and is being tipped to take over from the likes Ma Long as the next Chinese top player. Beating him at his prime was a very big win. Some other important wins included the wins against the likes of Marcos Freitas and Kenta Matsudira. However, if I had to pick one victory, it would have to be the one against Harimoto.
Who are some of the players to watch out for in the Indian table tennis circuit?
Manav Thakkar is definitely a big talent coming up. Archana Kamath has been doing really well. Talking about the youngsters, Priyesh and Vishwa from Chennai have been getting some good results in the national circuit. Hopefully India will be winning some medals in the upcoming World Junior championships.
2020 is a huge year! What goals do you personally have and the Indian table tennis team have for the next year?
It has been my dream to play the Olympics and now we are very close. Qualifying should not be an issue. Of course, qualifying is a duty and it is good to make it as early as possible. We will definitely take it very seriously in the 2020 qualification tournament in January. We have already made specific plans as to target teams and potential opponents. Yes, an Olympic medal is the ultimate dream. We never believed we would win a medal in the Asian games, now that we have done it, the belief system of the entire team has gone up and now the entire table tennis fraternity in India knows that we can definitely be competitive in the Olympics.
Personally, I would really like to break into the top 15 world ranks. However, I am not looking too much into the rankings rights now. Coming into the Olympic year, it is really important to keep yourself fit, fresh and prepared for the big game. It comes only once in 4 years, so we are definitely more focussed on it. However, it would definitely be nice if I could break into the top 15 in the next one year.