Ace Indian paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran on Thursday qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a comprehensive straight-game win over Pakistan’s Muhammad Rameez at the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Doha.
World number 38 Sathiyan coasted to an 11-5,11-8,11-9,11-2 win in just 29 minutes to seal his maiden Olympic berth.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times after his match, Sathiyan expressed his elation with his qualification. “I have no words to express (my happiness). It’s definitely one of the best moments of my life. All those years of struggle and after I missed the Rio (Olympics), I put my foot down and decided that I am going to Tokyo no matter what it takes to get there. The journey was laced with a lot of struggles and sacrifices,” expressed Sathiyan.
Earlier in the day, Sathiyan registered an impressive 4-3 victory over compatriot Sharath Kamal to inch closer to qualification. Sathiyan raced to a 2-0 lead before falling behind 2-3. He then held his nerves to win the next two games as the match ended 11-5,15-13,5-11,7-11,10-12,11-9,11-8 in his favour.
“It was a great battle (with Sharath Kamal), it’s always been. He’s a fighter, a tough competitor. I am really happy that I was able to finish on the winning side. I am happy for Sharath as he has also qualified. It’s a great performance for India overall. Both the girls (Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee) have qualified,” said Sathiyan on his match against Sharath.
With a second win over Kamal in a little under a month, the 28-year-old finished at the top of qualification Group 1 in Doha.
The Asian qualification event has players divided into five groups in accordance with their geographical regions namely: South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Players of the fifth region, Western Asia, are not taking part as they have already qualified for the upcoming Summer Games. Table topper from each group earns a spot in the Olympics. The sixth place is awarded to the highest-ranked player from the remaining lot.
-Sathiyan overpowers niggles and nerves-
sharathComing into this tournament, the Chennai-born paddler was suffering from a shoulder issue. But with an Olympic berth at stake, he had no choice but to battle past the pain.
Coming into the tournament, I wasn’t 100 per cent fit. A lot of things were running through my mind, but I kept at it because my determination for this tournament was very high. I did everything possible with my physio –tape, ice, sprays, and heat packs– to keep myself in good condition for the big tournament here, Sathiyan elaborated.
Sathiyan doesnt let the pressure get to him and has always maintained that he manages to deal with it really well. The national champion added that even on Thursday, he treated the qualification event like any other tournament and was high on confidence after the win against Sharath.
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Winning against Sharath was a big confidence booster. I did have a long gap (before the first and second game) and I used it to rest and physically prepare myself for the match. Even though I have never been at the Olympics, I have played a lot of big players. So, I told myself to treat this tournament as any other and stick to the basics. The Olympics has been my childhood dream. There were nerves but I managed to deal with them and take the victory, added the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
-Expectation from the Olympics-
Representing India at the Olympics has been Sathiyans childhood dream. The engineer-turned-paddler has realized half of it by making the cut. Now, he awaits the commencement of the event to put up a strong show.
Foremost aim is to put up a really strong performance at the Olympics and probably [stage] a couple of upsets. I am definitely going to go for a medal. It’s going to be extremely tough in the singles category but if you aim at least for a medal, you might end up in the quarterfinals.I would want to remember this Olympics not just for qualifying but also coming out satisfied, added Sathiyan.
-Whats next for Sathiyan-
The paddlers now have three-and-a-half months to fine-tune their game for the Summer Games. The 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist will be looking at different options of training along with working on his mental and physical fitness.
We will be looking at different avenues. Given the pandemic, it’s very difficult to go outside. A lot of things to deal with from visa and COVID-19 protocols to quarantine. We are also looking at options where we can bring in sparring partners to Chennai. That worked very well before the [2019 ITTF Men’s] World Cup. That’s again an issue because a lot of people are not willing to travel. If nothing works, I can go to Europe as well, said Sathiyan.
As of now, Sathiyan will be in Poland for the first two weeks of April to fulfill his commitment to participating in the Polish Superliga playoffs with his club Sokolow S.A. Jaroslaw. He will go back and celebrate with his family and friends and expects to spend the next couple of days just replying to all the congratulatory messages.

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