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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Bounceback begins at the base for G Sathiyan, wins Czech title

Sathiyan showed late on Wednesday that he too had moved on from that Tokyo heartbreak.

Written by Shahid Judge |
August 27, 2021 9:02:22 am
G Sathiyan wins the ITTF Czech International Open (Source: Sathiyan/Twitter)

Fortified with the speedily rustled up Czech title, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan recalls a time, just a few weeks back, when he sat with his coach Subramaniam Raman to watch a replay of his match at the Olympics. He watched the video of himself racing to a handsome 3-1 lead against World No 90 Siu Hang Lam of Hong Kong, before the wheels fell off and he lost 4-3. He lets out a small laugh when he says he watched the video of his opening round loss “three or four times.”

“I had a complete analysis of that match. What went right, what went wrong, and at what moments did I start to play safe,” he says. “And you have to watch those matches without any emotion.

“It did take a few days to come out of that. I’ve never felt that way, that bad, about losing from a winning position. I’ve had bad losses in my career and that was one of them. But I’ve never had a bad run.”

Those rough moments, of watching the recording of a spectacular and surprising defeat with a straight-face, stayed with him as he travelled to Olomouc, in the eastern province of Czech Republic. The Olympics were over, but the international tour went on. And Sathiyan showed late on Wednesday that he too had moved on from that Tokyo heartbreak.

The World No 39 and top seed at the ITTF Czech International Open put the recent failure behind him to win his career’s third tour title. And this was by far, the most dominant showing by him at an event as he went on to win it without dropping a set.

While the tournament was a definite step down from the high octanes of Olympics and he was one of only two Top 100 player in the fray, it was a morale-restoring and reassuring title victory for someone who had been shattered by the Olympics disappointment.

All through the event, from his opening round win against World No 723 Czech player Tomas Koldas to the 11-9, 11-6, 11-6, 14-12 win in the final against fourth seeded Ukraine’s World No 111 Yevhen Pryshchepa, he kept the lessons from Tokyo with him.

“The opponent is always coming back, so you have to keep changing strategy. That’s the thing I didn’t do in Tokyo,” he explains.

“I had my Plan B and Plan C, but didn’t change. When you start thinking about winning you sometimes don’t think too much. (Lam) changed strategy, but I didn’t.”

Sathiyan faced something similar in the final against Pryshchepa as well, after he raced to a 3-0 lead. The Ukrainian started serving more towards Sathiyan’s backhand and was targeting that area with aggressive shots.

It helped him go to a 5-0 lead against the Indian in the fourth game. That’s when the lessons from Tokyo started to kick in.

“I knew what he was doing. He was getting into position early because he realised my backhand returns of serve were more central,” the 28-year-old says.

“The hesitation to try the big shots in those key moments pulled me back at Tokyo. But now I started to hit more aggressively on my returns. I started going for the corners to throw him off, even during rallies. I was 5-0 down and changed gears, then I was 9-5 down, and then I brought it to deuce. My decision making had improved and I was going for shots.”

His first ever Olympic appearance was the first competitive match he had played since he secured a berth for the event at a qualification tournament in March. For nearly five months he was short of match play, and he assumes that’s what hindered him in Tokyo. It’s that disappointment that made the title in Olomouc all the more important for him.

“It’s a special title coming at the right time,” he says.

Mixing play, making quick decisions and thinking instinctively, by his admission, have come naturally to him. It’s what’s helped him get to the World No 24 rank – the best ever achieved by an Indian. It helped him beat the likes of World No 4 Tomokazu Harimoto. And it helped him force the great Ma Long to take a time-out when they played at the Asian Cup in 2019 (a few days after the Tokyo Olympic champion was seen sizing Sathiyan’s game up during a pre-event practice session).

This title shows him he’s getting back to those ways.

“It gave me the assurance,” he says as he lets out another laugh, “that I was back to the old Sathiyan mode.”

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