CHENNAI: G SATHIYAN arrived at the World Cup in Chengdu with one significant change in his armoury. It was the first time he was using a different rubber — Dignics 05 — on his backhand side in a competitive tournament. The decision to change from Tenergy 05 to Dignics 05 was to get more revs on the ball apart from imparting more speed, something the World No 30 said he was able to do at the World Cup.
But ask him what his most significant change has been over the last year and pat comes the response. “I believe I belong to the elite level,” he says a day after becoming only the second Indian to feature in the pre-quarterfinals of the World Cup. That mental transformation, he says, started happening ‘after winning medals for India at the Commonwealth and Asian Games last year’.
“In 2018, I started to play a lot of the top players. That’s only possible when you consistently make the main draws of tournaments. So that was the first step to believing that you belong at this level. Earlier, when I used to play the top 20 players, I used to ask myself: ‘will I be good enough?’ These days, I know that ‘I’m good enough’.”
Conversations with the mental conditioning coach also made a big difference. “My (mental conditioning) coach told me that the first step in this process is to ‘get yourself to believe that you belong in the elite’. The rest will follow.”
The rest has followed. He likes to call his 2019 ‘the year of upsets’ and there is a reason for that. At the Asia Cup in April, he beat Chih-Yuan Chuang and Chun Ting Wong.
At the Asian Championships in September, he engineered a sensational takedown of Tomokazu Harimoto before overcoming Simon Gauzy and Jonathan Groth at the World Cup last week. All five of the above-mentioned players were higher-ranked than him, so it’s just natural when he says ‘this is my best season on the circuit’. He also credits the role played by coach S Raman who accompanied him to China.
How did he personally view the work he did in China, including the loss against Timo Boll in the R16? “I will say it’s a strong message to the rest of the table tennis fraternity that I am here, I can say that I now have that confidence. These kinds of wins over elite players help you grow.” On the encounter against Boll, the Chennai lad can ‘only describe it as a great learning experience’. “I wanted to catch him by surprise so I was extra aggressive in the first game and it paid off. But he slowed down the pace and gave me no room to go for my shots. I should accept the fact that he is a level above me.”
But then, the 26-year-old is happy with the way he has evolved over the last 2-3 years. And there is no better illustration of that than a tweet Boll had posted on November 21, 2016. After sparring with Sathiyan, he had posted: “good training session with my Indian colleague. He is well on his way to reaching the top 100.”
Sathiyan is now World No 30 and going by how well he has played in 2019, next year could be when he breaches the top 20 ranking.