By G Sathiyan
Our team had a two-week camp in Portugal before we went for the Commonwealth Games. We were supposed to take that time to help each other smooth out our technique and maybe sort out some strategies for the team events and doubles matches. A lot of my personal fine-tuning though revolved around putting a new type of rubber on the backhand side of my racquet.
Naturally, everyone at the camp was concerned because each change to the racquet can take a few weeks or sometimes months to adjust to. I knew there was some tension because Sharath Kamal, who has so much experience, came to me and asked why I was making changes now at a time when things should have been finalised. I told him not to worry and that I was just trying something out. If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t risk it at Gold Coast. But the change worked well for me.
For my racquet, the ply I use is a fast one. It’s called (Butterfly) Jun Mizutani Super ZLC – named after the big Japanese player it was modelled after. It’s a lightweight ply and makes the racquet pretty flimsy actually. But since it’s a bit soft it becomes easier to get spin on the ball.
I started using that ply two years ago and added a Butterfly Tenergy 05 rubber on the forehand side. It’s soft rubber, but probably the hardest rubber among the ones considered ‘soft.’
The combination of using a fast ply with a soft rubber, which can potentially slow the ball down, is not unique, but still is quite rare. I think Sanil Shetty used to have something similar a while back, but now I think I’m the only Indian using it.
With this combo, I manage to get decent power from the ply, which has a sort of a trampoline-effect. And with the rubber, there’s a bigger sweet spot and can put in lots of spin. For me, this is an ideal combination because I’m not really a hard hitter like Sharath or Harmeet Desai. I tend to mix things up more, changing the pace, hitting with spin, those kind of things. A crafty player.
My coach S Raman used to make me experiment with the different equipment, but I got this combo started two years ago, and even won my tour title in 2016 (Belgian Open) using this. But the rubber was only on the forehand side. I was pretty content with it, but coach Raman, told me the only constant is change. So I needed to do something with my backhand side.
The backhand was a shot I was not very strong at. I could get the ball back into play, but there was no power on it. So what I used to do was use a very soft rubber so that I can put more spin on it. People started reading that well too and used to attack me on that side. So I changed the rubber in Portugal, and put the Tenergy 05 on the backhand side too. So when we went to Australia, people started attacking my backhand, but I was returning with more power. That threw them off guard.
It helped me get the medals (gold in the men’s team event, silver in men’s doubles and bronze in mixed doubles) at Gold Coast, and helped us reach the top 15 of the World Team Championships for the first time in three decades.
I always carry two racquets with a few spare sets of rubbers with me when I travel. This combination has worked really well for me but I might start changing things around soon. The Chinese play with a hard ply and hard rubber, which means you have to be incredibly strong to generate power and spin to make sure the ball goes over the net and down the other side. It’s really hard to use. That, maybe, will be the ultimate challenge to master for a later day. Maybe after Jakarta. Right now it’s the Asian Games.