We have a small chat with India’s top Table Tennis Player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and his journey inspires us a lot. He also shares his thoughts about the young upcoming talents and also states what he does during his free time.
How does it feel to be the best in the country?
First of all, thank you for such a great compliment. I always try to be the best of myself rather than being the best in the country. I try to improve on myself and get better day by day. I think that if people consider me as the best it is definitely an achievement for me. It is always important to set a benchmark for the upcoming players which will definitely help the game to improve and develop.
We have noticed and witnessed the great improvement in your International rankings in the span of few months. What is the reason behind this massive improvement?
I mainly tried to improve in every prospect and I wanted to go through the whole process of improvement. Me and my coach Raman Sir believed in setting goals and then achieving them. This process is the back bone of winning. Once you start winning you realise that the competition has just started and everybody wants to know how you play and what are your positives and negatives.
Raman sir and I used to discuss the game plans and focus more on improvement than anything else which ultimately helped me a lot in my game. The physician, dietitian and each and every person involved in this process helped me a lot.
Where does this winning attitude and habit come from?
Winning should be a habit for everyone. If you win, you get motivated to keep up the good performance and that’s the time when you can push your limits and improve. It helps you to keep yourself motivated and focused.
Going back to your childhood, how did you start your Table Tennis career?
My father worked overseas and my mother used to work in Union Bank. I was hyper active when I was a kid and my mother wanted this energy to get invested in something good and creative. Table Tennis Centre had just started near my home and that’s why my mother enrolled my name there.
She wanted to keep me fit and never had the intention of making me a proper sportsperson. At the age of 5, I started playing TT and the love for the game increased ever since then. I started winning matches and that’s what kept me extra motivated.
I won the State and National Ranking tournaments at the age of 7 and thus took the sport seriously. It could have been any other sport but as the TT centre started near my house, TT came into my life.
From whom did you take the inspiration and motivation to become a table tennis player?
I used to put the posters of top TT players on the wall and I used to play against the wall and would assume that I am winning against them. That somehow kept me motivated. My father was an extremely hard working person who motivated me a lot.
I used to be big fan of Timo Boll and I was lucky enough to share a session with him. Apart from TT, Roger Federer has been a great source of inspiration for me.
How did your parents support you in your initial stages?
With the academic background me and my family has, it was not sure if I would be going for TT as a complete career or not, but till then my parents were extremely supportive. My dad used to travel with me to all the tournaments till I was 15. He always made the financial arrangements and backed me a lot.
What was your decision when you had to choose between an exam and a major tournament?
My heart always went for the tournaments as TT was my love and passion since childhood. But sometimes you have to make wise decisions which might be against your will at that point of time.
I think taking wise decisions rather than taking right decisions is important at times.
I missed out on 2014 Commonwealth Games and chose to complete my Engineering as it was my mental block and tension for a very long time. I could have easily gone for 2 other tournaments as well but my decision to clear out the tension was wise I think.
You have satisfied your parents by bringing in an Engineering degree to put it on the wall and also pursue your passion to play TT. So what made you reject engineering and choose Table Tennis?
I was doing both at the same time. Playing TT was my passion and getting the degree was also important. It was extremely hard to do both the things.
Life without a sport is not life for me. I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t hear the sound of the bouncing ball.
Also, it was during those 4 years of Engineering that I realised that I had a lot of potential in me. With mere practise I could beat the top players and that hit me hard with the thought that I practise hard and devote my whole life to TT, I can reach and conquer some new levels.
Was it easy for you do both at the same time?
No it wasn’t easy at all. Like no one would ever like to balance Engineering with a sport.
But I would like to advice people to do such stunts.
Sports was not the same during that time. People hardly looked towards sports as a career. Choosing TT as a profession was a risky choice but I was well determined. If you ask me to choose the most difficult phases, it would be the 2nd and 3rd year of Engineering where it was even hard to find 10 minutes for yourself.
Thanks to ONGC where I was offered a job and a salary and that’s why I could completely focus on TT.
How do you look at the career you had so far?
It has been really great. No regrets at all. I certainly feel bad for some opportunities I didn’t grab and missed out on them. But overall the journey has been fantastic. I have focused more on maximum output with the correct amount of efforts which has helped me to improve day in day out.
People tend to find only the positive things, but they hardly know what a player goes through. Please tell about how do you go through mental stress and criticism.
I always think that criticism should be welcomed. It helps you to improve. It is really good that people are talking about you and pointing out your mistakes. There is a difference between negative comments and criticism.
People who criticize are the ones who are used to see the best version of you and if you do not fulfill their expectations they cannot sustain. So criticism helps me and motivates me to work harder and perform better.
I work with the mental conditioning coach in a professional way which helps me a lot. I have shared my problems with the coach and tried to find solutions to the problems. The anxiety on the court and the pressure I felt was somehow troubling me inside. But with determination and hard work I found out ways to handle these feelings.
My father passed away in 2015 and that setback has matured me as a person. I have become more aggressive and tension free when I am on the court and I could see a massive difference in the way I approached each match.
What are the escape plans for you when you have to relax and get a break from Table Tennis?
Well, I am a huge movie bub. I have all the subscriptions including Prime, Netflix and Hotstar. They are my great companions when I travel. I watch a lot of new series and movies but I make sure I don’t get addicted to it.
I also used to read a lot of books but after Engineering I didn’t dare to touch any book because Engineering completely satisfied my habit for reading!
I am also a coffee lover so I tend to visit various café when I have free time.
You have had so many successes and major wins at the National and the International Level. Which will be that one success that you will rate as the best one in your career?
I would certainly say that 2018 Asian Games Bronze Medal was extremely special and memorable. No one had ever thought that India could win a medal in TT. Beating Japan in the 3rd place match was amazing and the feeling was extremely special. India hadn’t won a TT medal in Asian Games for 60 years and thus it made that win a memorable one.
Who is the player whom you love to play against? Who is the one with you have a healthy rivalry?
There is nothing such like rivalry but I have played a lot against Soumyajit Ghosh and Harmeet Desai and had a little bit of upper hand, but in recent days, me playing against Sharath Kamal has been a hot debate. Sharath is a lot senior to me and I admire him as a player.
Even the match we played against each other in the Nationals last year was too much fun.
What kind of support you get from the government and the federation?
Starting with the Tamil Nadu government, they introduced an elite sports scheme in 2013 which has a sports development authority of Tamil Nadu. Due to this I could afford with all the expenses. I trained with Ramjeet Shrinivas with Sports Dynamics, I had a dietitian, a mental health coach and all the facilities I needed. My coach Raman Sir was introduced to me due to this scheme.
GoSports foundation also came into being during the same year which was very useful.
The Indian Government has brought in the TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) has been extremely helpful. They fund the players for almost every tournament and it motivates and helps the players a lot.
What I would like to see is the investment of private companies for the players. The government and the federation have been fantastic but it would be some extra help for the players if the private sector provides some extra funding.
Where do you see Indian Table Tennis in the upcoming few years?
Indian Table Tennis is going through a Golden Period I would say. Me, Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra are doing really well.
The juniors are also doing brilliantly and improving a lot with extreme hard work. We have already started winning against TT giants like Japan and Korea. In a span of few years, we will be definitely close to what Indian Badminton has done in the last few years.
There are many brilliant young talents who would take Indian TT to another level. Manav Thakkar is young and is already in the Indian Team. We as seniors already see an upcoming Champion through him. Manav Shah is also an elite talent. Archana Kamat is also brilliant. I have played with her and she has definitely a good future.
The players who are from the junior category and are brilliant are Priyesh and Vishwa from Chennai and they are ranked high in the National Rankings as well.
There are millions who consider you as their role model, but who is or was your table tennis role model?
From the start itself I had a style of myself. I used to watch a lot of videos to learn but I never tried to imitate someone. To name a few, Ma Long, Timo Boll and Ryu Seung-min were my favourite players. I loved to see these 3 playing.
Talking about my role, it has always been my father. His determination, hardwork and the way he approached his life was extremely inspiring for me. The attitude of winning and working hard has come from my father.
What is the message you will give to the upcoming players?
It’s extremely important to have patience. Enjoy the sport rather than playing for the results. Winning is a process. Enjoy the process and the struggle.
The real success is the struggle and not the final medal.
Once you face the struggle, tasting success is extremely sweet. You will definitely enjoy the moment of success. Not everyone gets the opportunity to play and represent the country or even their state. So be dedicated and stay positive.
Let’s take a rapid fire round!
Training in India or Abroad?
Which Medal would matter you the most, Asian Games or World Championships?
One Sport other than TT you love?
Singles or Doubles, what would you prefer to play more?
The ever enthusiastic Sathiyan Gnanasekaran has been brilliant on the field and today we discovered his jolly nature as well. He also says that the funny statements he says often come from what he learnt during his Engineering years! We wish him all the best for his future!