Tokyo Olympics was “the dream", says Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. And he has accomplished that big mission. “Definitely one of the best moments of my life. We have worked really hard, I wanted to make sure that I get into Tokyo, that was the dream. It was a goal 4-5 years back and we had to wait one extra year so that was also… definitely worth the wait, qualifying in an emphatic way with two wins in two matches. Getting into Olympics is something very, very special," Sathiyan said in an exclusive conversation with News18.com.
Sathiyan defeated Pakistan’s Muhammad Rameez to seal his spot in the Tokyo Games by topping the South Asian group with two wins in two matches. Before Rameez, Sathiyan also beat compatriot Achanta Sharath Kamal, who has booked his spot in the Olympics as well.
Sathiyan had defeated Sharath in the National Championships just a month back and the paddler said that gave him a lot of confidence. He called the game “one of the fierce battles" they have had. Sathiyan admitted that both him and Sharath knew they could qualify by beating the Pakistani but still gave their best on the table.
“I started very well but I had some shoulder issue that was pestering me. He came back in a strong way, I started thinking of how he came back in the nationals and we were 2-2 and I went down 2-3 but then I never gave up and focussed on one point at a time. I kept putting pressure on him and then it turned again in the sixth game and I took on the game and played some aggressive strokes that really put Sharath under pressure," he described.
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The wait between the match against Sharath and Rameez was a long one and that made Sathiyan anxious. “I had to wait till the night to play the match against Rameez. I was a bit anxious thinking about the match and thinking about the struggles. I tried to not think too much beyond the match and focus on the present moment. So, I did some yoga and meditation to calm myself down for the match. I knew I was a big favourite so I had to stick the basics and play simple table tennis."
Sathiyan said he had flashbacks of his journey in the last four to five years in the last few moments against Rameez. “I was very excited playing the match but I tried to focus on just the game while I was playing."
Sathiyan shared that he incurred a shoulder strain after his win over Sharath in the National Championships but due to World Table Tennis (WTT) tournaments and Olympic qualifiers, he couldn’t give it much of a rest. “There was a small swelling there but it’s come down now and the pain has significantly reduced. The first two weeks of the Doha hub and the last qualifiers also, it was bad. But then I started to ice and massage well and it came down a little bit. But the physio’s advice is to give it complete 7-10 days rest and rehab and work on strengthening as well."
Sathiyan said it is a small injury but since he couldn’t give it proper time to heal, it’s stayed till now. “I couldn’t afford a 7-10 days break with Olympic qualifiers in the line. So I had to play with the pain and put in a lot of painkillers, lot of icing, heat pad taping, that worked well and I think the mission has been accomplished in spite of the pain. So, right now it’s important to take care and I have good 10 days from hereon to rest it and heal it properly before I go to Poland."
With the Tokyo Olympics berth booked, Sathiyan is all set to first go and celebrate the big moment with his family. Reaching Chennai on March 22, Sathiyan will be taking a bit of a breather and rest his shoulder as well. On April 1, he will be leaving for Poland for the playoff league matches, where he will stay for a couple of weeks and come back on April 15 after which he will begin his Olympic preparations.
“We are looking at a lot of options but due to Covid restrictions, a lot of issues need to be sorted out. One thing is if I go abroad, will there be quarantine? Because I don’t want to go in a 14-day quarantine and hamper the preparation so that’s one thing we look at. If there’s a long quarantine, we have to avoid going abroad. The other option is to bring sparring partners to Chennai, which I have done in the past, bringing the Chinese players for World Cup preparation in 2019. We are looking at that as a possible option too," he explained.
Sathiyan said there is a lot of work to be done on his fitness and his coach S Raman already has plans to improve his technical skills as well. “We are going to go all guns blazing and add more arms and ammunitions to my game."