Having made giant strides in recent years, paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran isn’t overawed by the enormity of the Olympic Games. In fact, World No.38 Sathiyan can’t wait to take the court despite Tokyo 2020 being his debut Games outing. The 28-year-old is wary of the monumental challenge ahead of him and hopes to send shockwaves across the table tennis community with his performances in men’s singles. Exuding positivity, Sathiyan spoke at length to DT Next prior to his departure to Tokyo.
Could you talk us through the effort you put in running up to the Tokyo Olympic Games?
I worked extensively with my coach S Raman sir in the last three months. It was good to work on a lot of specifics while training with my sparring partner Anirban Ghosh. Anirban is an all-rounder and it was a good decision to have him on board. I added variety to my game, which I believe will help me surprise a few opponents. One key area that I concentrated on was my power game. I have usually been good in terms of speed and agility, but not with my power game. Besides these, I focussed a lot on my fitness. Ramji Srinivasan sir of Sports Dynamix was always there to pay attention to my fitness sessions.
The Tokyo Olympics is just a week away. What kind of emotions are you experiencing ahead of your debut at the Games? The excitement levels are high. I am also a bit emotional as I will be playing at the Olympic Games after years and years of struggle. I am having a few butterflies in my stomach, but I feel that I thrive under pressure. I was able to perform well in my maiden outing at the Commonwealth and Asian Games. Hopefully, I have a memorable debut Olympics.
Your compatriot Sharath Kamal Achanta has vast knowledge of the Olympics. Being a debutant, did you talk to him about how to approach the Games?
We usually have a chat ahead of big-ticket events. It is always good to have a senior like him. I recently had a conversation with him, where he spoke about how the Games and the Olympics Village would be. In fact, my coach Raman sir competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. So, I got first-hand information about the Games. As a player, I have the experience of taking part at the Commonwealth and Asian Games. By putting everything together, I think that I will be able to play good table tennis.
You had a stint with Okayama Rivets in the Japanese T-League at the end of last year. Will the recent spell in host nation Japan give you an edge over some of your rivals?
I played the Japanese league in huge stadiums without spectators. We will have similar conditions at the Olympic Games. During my time in Japan, I practised with top-quality players and played matches against them, which were helpful. It was a great preparation for the Olympics. I also got an idea of how the environment and food would be.
How far do you believe you can go in the men’s singles event?
I hold a good ranking – No.38 – and that could be a huge advantage. I am seeded 26th in the draw. The matches will be pretty difficult, so the primary objective is to give whatever I have. I just want to go out there and enjoy my game. I plan to take it round by round. It would be amazing if I manage to reach the quarter-final stage.
How do you plan to adapt to the ‘new normal’ inside the Games Village?
We have been briefed about the COVID-19 regulations. I travelled to Japan and Poland in the past year, so I am aware of the challenges. Safety of everyone involved is of paramount importance. I am ready to sacrifice a few things so that I can make my much-awaited Games debut.