As Indians, we are likely to play safe and choose academic careers like engineering, medicine or law. On the other hand, if we were to pursue sports, most of us would pursue either cricket or football. This results in a breakneck competition and if someone is slightly incompetent, the person is weeded out even he is better than most in the world.
But one cannot blame us for doing so because the road to success with other career choices is not very bright because of the lack of support. It thus takes immense amount of patience and perseverance to pursue something different from the mainstream and make it to the front page of newspapers. However, 25-year-old Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, from Chennai, is well on his way to the top spot after ditching a massively pursued career for a relatively unfollowed one.
Dabbling Sports And Academics
It was 3 A.M in the morning when an 18-year-old Sathiyan was downing cups after cups of coffee to complete his engineering assignment due for submission in less than12hours. Just eight hours prior, he had defeated junior world number one table tennis player Niwa Koki to secure a finals berth at the Asian Juniors in Jaipur in 2010. Owing to his academic duties, he couldn’t even manage to celebrate his win against the world number one. The final, which was scheduled at 6 P.M. that very day, wasn’t a very memorable one for him as he lost marginally.
Cut to 2018, Sathiyan has won two major singles titles, three medals at the Commonwealth Games and a historic team bronze at the Asian Games. He was also part of a best-ever 13th-place finish in the World Team Championship. Having hovered in the 300s in the ITTF world rankings in 2014, he broke into the top 50 this year and is currently ranked No. 40.
But was this transition from dabbling between academics and professional sports easy to cracking into the top 50 rankings easy? Not so if one looks closely into his timeline and accounts for his legitimate reasons.
“The only reason I completed my engineering was I knew there was no other way to go ahead. I literally finished it because I wanted to get it out of the way. My dream is and always will be to be the world’s best table tennis player, but the ground realities are such that, if I don’t make, I just might die starving. I couldn’t let it make me a victim, every athlete to who wants to represent the country needs to make sacrifices. This was mine, for I needed to prove to my family that I’m strong enough to do both.” Sathiyan disclosed to Sportskeeda.
However, his engineering stint wasn’t all that bad. In 2012, he was offered a job by ONGC and a scholarship under the Elite Scheme by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. During this time, he was also introduced to GoSports Foundation, which brought to the table expertise in sports nutrition, psychology, mental conditioning and bio-mechanics. His partnership with his coach Subramanium Raman, a Commonwealth Games medallist, began in late 2012.
Going All Out
Once he graduated in 2014, Sathiyan was able to channelize all his energy towards his game and physical and mental fitness. In his first National-ranking tournament after graduating, Sathiyan stunned everyone by beating Soumyajit Ghosh in the final of the inter-institutional tournament in New Delhi.
He went full blast in 2015, competing in nearly a dozen international tournaments. He changed his approach, becoming process-oriented. But tragedy struck when he lost his father amidst the best run of his career so far. However, instead of lamenting his father’s death, he used the grief to spur him on more than before.
“It really changed me,” says Sathiyan. “I started to realise that I have nothing else to lose. My mother told me that TT is the only way to come out of this and I channelized all my anger into the sport. I started playing really aggressive.”
Success came to him in the form of the Belgium Open title. “I was seeded 26thand winning the final 4-0 against a local player, Cedric Nuytinck, gave me a lot of confidence.”
This confidence was in evidence during the inaugural season of Ultimate Table Tennis, in which he was the only Indian to remain unbeaten. Sathiyan’s present mission is an Olympic medal in the next six years and he has his path charted. He is set to train with the national teams of Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
Sathiyan has certainly helped stretch the limits of what was thought possible for Indian TT players. He was successful in his maiden attempts at the Commonwealth Games, World Team Championship and Asian Games, all of which show what dedication and meticulous planning can achieve when allied with talent and intelligence.