How table tennis player G Sathiyan rebuilt his game and is set for the Olympics

G Sathiyan, currently ranked World No. 63 in table tennis, is the first Indian player to win the men’s singles championship at the WTT Feeder series (World Table Tennis)
G Sathiyan, currently ranked World No. 63 in table tennis, is the first Indian player to win the men’s singles championship at the WTT Feeder series (World Table Tennis)


A rehabilitation programme, a scientific approach to training, and good rest helped G Sathiyan bounce back and win his first WTT Feeder title and qualify for Olympics 2024

In August 2023, paddler G Sathiyan’s ranking dropped out of the world’s top-100 for the first time since 2017. The following month, he returned empty-handed from the Asian Games in Hangzhou. Even as he looked to rebuild his form, he suffered two injuries that left him struggling through the rest of the year.

It wasn’t until the end of January this year that Sathiyan felt good about his abilities again. A couple of months later, he clinched his first WTT Feeder title in Beirut, Lebanon - the first Indian player to win a men’s singles championship at the WTT Feeder Series. “This was a very different challenge because I had never been injured for such a long time, ever since I started playing professionally. I couldn’t switch off either because it was an important phase of the Olympic qualification cycle. So I had to get in the best possible shape in a very short period of time. And I cannot ask for a better way to come back to form than winning the title," Sathiyan, 31, says.

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The title will be best remembered for Sathiyan’s semi-final victory over former World No. 3 Chuang Chih-yuan of Chinese Taipei. The 3-1 win was a closer affair than the score suggests, where Sathiyan often had to maintain his composure and dig deep during the important points.

“At the top level, everyone has trained hard and is playing well. It’s about who has the mental edge during those crucial moments. I’ve always enjoyed the pressure, a privilege that not many get to experience - the sweaty palms and the butterflies in the stomach. More than the title, I think to win against a player like Chuang is a very special feeling," he says. In the final against compatriot Manav Thakkar, Sathiyan lost the first game, but came back strongly to take the match.


“The expectations were high after my semi-final win. Manav has also been in great form and has improved drastically. I started a bit passive, but once I executed my game plan, I won points on attack that helped me bounce back," he says of the final triumph.

The knee injury, compounded by lower back spasms, required Sathiyan to take a step backward in order to understand his body. He soon realised the need to include a recovery routine while on tour and a greater focus on strength training. Alongside the team at Primal Patterns in Chennai, Sathiyan first worked on rehabilitation and then took on a scientific approach to training, competition and rest, which helped him return sooner.

“One of the things this generation of athletes has faced is that we’ve been playing the big events for four consecutive years - Olympics in 2021, then the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2023 Asian Games, and the Olympics once again this year. That mindset demands a lot from you and I took on the load without proper rest and recovery," he says. “But these situations also bring out the best in you. I had never won a WTT title even when I was in the top-30 of the world. And now I’ve managed it after coming back from injury," he adds.

The title in Beirut propelled Sathiyan’s ranking to World No. 63 - the third-highest ranked Indian player behind Sharath Kamal Achanta (World No. 37) and Manav Thakkar (World No. 60). Harmeet Desai is a spot lower at World No. 64. These four, alongside Manush Shah, reached the round of 16 at the World Table Tennis Championships in Busan, South Korea, in February. That run helped India qualify for their maiden appearance in the team event at the Olympics. It also helped secure two spots in the men’s singles draw, which will be decided later this month.

“I love the competition, the younger players really push me hard. When it comes to singles, we fight like cats and dogs because everyone wants to win desperately. And then outside the arena, we share everything to improve as individual players and come together as a team," Sathiyan says.

“We are much stronger now as a team and have created a sense of fear at the world stage. There may not be a top-10 or top-20 player among us, but we know there are now expectations of beating stronger opponents as a team. Two wins at the Olympics and you are in the medal round. I like to set the bar high and it’s going to be historic if we make it," he adds. 

I’ve always enjoyed the pressure, a privilege that not many get to experience - the sweaty palms and the butterflies in the stomach.

The end of the Olympic qualification cycle means there’s time for a much-needed break in May. Then it’s back to grind under coach Subramaniam Raman, where he wants to focus on the serve and return game and work on his strength in the weeks ahead.

“I’ve always been good with the long rallies, but the new generation of players are fearless, going for shots on the first or second ball. So to attack the first ball and start strong on the rally will be key," he says.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Sathiyan plans on joining the rest of the team at a camp in Bengaluru, before heading out to a few tournaments and a final training stint in Europe to get used to the conditions. Besides swimming sessions for recovery, he has also started spending more time with the family, whether it’s indulging in coffee or catching the latest movie.

“I’ve experienced a lot of mental freshness while just hanging out with my folks. This is often ignored as part of an athlete’s routine and I feel like recovering mentally is as important as recovering physically. Besides, it’s also a lot of fun to talk table tennis with people who don’t judge you. A light conversation over coffee does wonders for me," he says. 

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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