By Debayan Mukherjee
Kolkata, Sep 23 (IANS) On the back of a stupendous performance at the Asian Table Tennis Championships, India’s top-ranked paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran believes the fear of playing superior Chinese and Korean players are no longer there among the country’s players, and qualifying for Tokyo Olympics is now a huge possibility.
“People have now started to believe that we can beat Chinese and Koreans. We have that belief as well. Now when we play them, we don’t have that fear anymore,” Sathiyan told IANS.
“We take them as any opponent and have the belief that on a given day we can beat them. So the mindset of all the players throughout the country has changed. We have set a huge benchmark of beating Koreans and playing close matches even with top Chinese players.
“People now believe that we can beat the best in the world. It’s not just me, but Sharath, Manika (Batra) and our juniors also are doing so well. The whole group is doing well,” he said.
India’s campaign in the Asian Table Tennis Championships came to an end when Sathiyan, the last man in fray, went down fighting to Chinese Lin Gaoyuan 1-3 in the quarter-finals at Yogyakarta last week.
Sathiyan, ranked 30 in the world, reached a big milestone in his career when he became the only second Indian to reach the men singles quarter-finals at the continental meet when he defeated An-Ji Song of North Korea.
Sathiyan has now set his sights for November end’s Men’s World Cup in China and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
India have never qualified as a team for the Olympics. The first world team qualification for the Olympics is in January next year.
“We have been preparing really well. We have been doing a lot of homework. The confidence is high. We have a very good mixture of players in the team with lot of variety. We back each other up. We are positive and hopeful of making the Olympic cut in January,” said Sathiyan who reached a historic career-best world ranking of 28 earlier this year.
The Indian men’s team finished fifth, its best ever results, after beating Hong Kong 3-1 in the Asian Championships. Concurrently, they also won gold in the 1st Division when they blanked out Iran 3-0.
Sathiyan will next play in the Swedish and German Open before taking part in the big World Cup.
“That’s a big tournament where if I do well it will help my rankings. Let’s see if I can do well in the two Pro Tours and then look to continue good form in World Cup,” said the 26-year-old Chennai boy.
“We are looking forward to qualifying for the Olympics. Then we can focus on preparation. Rankings will take care of itself, I am focusing more on the process and working on my receiving skills and service. Also I am working on playing a bit more aggressively,” he signed off.