NEW DELHI: World No 32 G Sathiyan marked his return to competitive table tennis after 224 days with a win. Representing Sokolow SA Jaroslaw in Polish Superliga, the Chennai paddler got the better off AZS AWFIS Balta Gdansk’s Szymon Malicki 11-3, 5-11, 11-8, 12-14, 11-5.
The 27-year-old is no stranger to the league having played there in the past but this year things could not be more different. No fans were present inside the arena, fist bumps replaced handshakes and players having to stay in a bio-secure bubble. Umpires with gloves and players picking up stray balls was another novelty.
“Getting back the feeling of playing competitively felt really good. But it was a strange atmosphere to make your return in. Usually European leagues have fans thronging the stadium and it is a highlight of playing here. But with that missing, players had to work extra hard to generate rhythm and momentum. Players here are happy to be playing but there is an air of anxiousness,” the Asian games bronze medallist told this daily from Poland.
The league has tried its best to employ a bubble including stationing players close to the different venues, demarcating zones inside the arena, sanitised cars to and fro from the halls. And players also are wary of stepping out of line as the number of cases have recently been on the rise.
“Masks are worn inside the arena all times and sanitisers are used frequently. Nobody is stepping out and players keep inquiring about each other. Players were allowed to go to shops within a stipulated time in case of emergencies but nobody has ventured out. Such scenes will be present till the pandemic does not die down and players are coping to the best of their abilities,” he added.
Regarding his own match, the multiple CWG medallist felt it would be foolish to expect a top notch performance in a short span of time.
“I only practiced for an hour before the match. It was cold and I was quite rusty which was understandable. But I kept focussing on the process instead of trying too hard to finish the match quickly. And by the fifth game, I felt my match rhythm coming on nicely. Hopefully, next match I can pick up from where I left off.”