Year of many firsts for rising star Sathiyan

Gnanasekaran Sathiyan came of age to take over the leadership mantle in Indian table tennis from veteran Sharath Kamal in a year which saw paddlers produce memorable performances despite the lack of a full-time coach.
In July, Sathiyan became the first Indian to break into top-25
In July, Sathiyan became the first Indian to break into top-25

New Delhi

For a decade and a half, Sharath was India’s lone warrior on the big stage but now he too is relieved that he has got a fast-improving Sathiyan for company. “It’s time (we had someone else taking over the leadership responsibility). Sathiyan is improving rapidly in the international arena and I am really happy for him,” said the 37-year-old Sharath.

If 2018 was about India doing exceedingly well at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, 2019 was mainly about Sathiyan making his mark at the highest level where he defeated quite a few top-20 players, including World No.5 and young Japanese teenage sensation Harimoto Tomokazu.

The 26-year-old also became the first Indian to break into the top-25 of the ITTF world rankings when he rose to 24 in July. Another feather in his cap was finishing sixth in his first-ever Asian Cup which helped him qualify for the World Cup where he made the main draw after topping his group.

“It has been a satisfying year. I beat quite a few higher-ranked players and target for next year is to register more wins against the top-10 players. We are also doing well as a team and that gives us confidence going into the Olympic qualifiers,” said Sathiyan.

Indian paddlers have now become a force to reckon with and they were without a full-time coach this year. The individual brilliance aside, they also make for a potent men’s team. After winning a historic bronze at the Asian Games last year, the squad comprising Sharath (WR 34), Sathiyan (30) and Harmeet Desai (85) has a very good chance of achieving another first when it plays the Olympic team qualifiers in Portugal beginning January 22.

Currently ranked 8th, all India needs to do is to reach the quarter-finals to ensure a first-ever Olympic qualification as a team. So far, Indian players have only featured in individual events at the Olympics.

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