Arjuna Awardee. First Indian paddler to break the Top 25 rankings in the World. Jury Choice for TOISA Table Tennis player of the year award (2017).
Sathiyan Gnansekaran’s rise through the ranks has been a rapid one; the paddler has immensely worked his way from being outside the top 100 in the ITTF rankings to becoming the first Indian to make it to top 25 in the rankings.
Sathiyan announced himself in the world stage in Table Tennis when he won the ITTF Challenge Belgium Open title in the men's singles category in September 2016. This was his first ITTF pro tour title. In 2017, he won gold in the ITTF Challenge – Spanish Open, in Almeria (2017) in the men's singles category and created history by becoming the first Indian Table Tennis player ever to win two ITTF pro tour titles. In April 2018, he won three medals in his debut Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, Australia. Tokyo 2020 was to be his debut Olympics and we wish him the very best in his Olympic campaign. Read more about Sathiyan’s swift rise in the TT world.
An Engineer by training, Tech geeks will be thrilled to hear that he has been training with a Robot during the COVID lockdowns.
Interview with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran
What challenges did you face, in getting to where you are today?
The challenges I faced in my career were quite a lot. I think coming from a very academic driven middle-class family it was a big challenge to take up an entirely new field – sports as a profession – because sports is always seen as extracurricular activity, although, now it's changing. But it was always seen as an extracurricular activities in the past. And to make that as your profession, to convince myself, my parents and society was a big challenge. I had to really work hard to convert my passion into my profession, which was a big challenge. And of course, the other big thing was, you know, I've always been criticized for my lean physique because, people assume you need, you know, huge muscles and a bigger body size to get better at a sport. I've been told that I would not make it big during my childhood days. But I think I took that as a challenge. And that criticism, in fact, really helped me to work even harder. And I worked on my strengths and I focused on my strengths rather than my shortcomings. And I think that really helped me to grow from strength to strength and become the player I am today.
What is important to you? (apart from sports what else do you do, and believe in ? It’s good for people reading this to know that there are other interests too aside from sports)
Table tennis has always been my first love and passion, yes, but I think life is just not table tennis. Life is much more beyond that. It's really important that you give value to your family and to your loved ones. Make sure you build relationships that make yourself, and the people around you happy. That is more important than playing a sport so I made sure I made a lot of friends. I always found time to go around with them. I also watch a lot of movies – I think that's one thing which makes me forget the pressure and everything. Watching movies gives me that nice feeling of relaxing myself.
How does being an athlete make you a better person?
I think being an athlete, the first thing you learn is of course having control over yourself. I think you become more disciplined, you value time, and that's one thing I learnt – you value time, you will be more disciplined. I also think you'll start seeing meaning in failures and sport teaches you a very important aspect in life – whenever you lose you get back up and then keep working hard. And that one thing is something that sport always taught me and I kept pushing my limits even though I lost and every loss was not a loss but a learning. So I have made up my mind that you don't actually lose when you lose a match but you only actually lose when you lose to yourself. So I think that's one thing I've always kept in my mind – I just keep pushing and I make sure I never lose to myself. Unless you are defeated by yourself no one else can defeat you. That's my goal and I just keep pushing as an athlete in that front.
What mental tool do you use under pressure?
I feel pressure is a privilege as you are under pressure because you are good at something and you are expected to perform well.
What is your mantra?
Champions are not born but they are made.
What kind of philanthropic work are you involved in, if any?
Yes, it is really important to give back to the society because I think the people around me help me a lot to come up and climb through this ladder and come to this position. You can never be a successful person without the help of your loved ones, without the help of your family – so it was always important, and I was taught by my parents to always give back to society. Do as much as you can to help your dear ones. One thing which me and my mom did was this small thing – my school has been very supportive since my childhood days – they are the ones who really helped me out. My dad passed away due to cancer in 2015 so I felt there was a need to do something in his name. So I just went back to my school and we have instituted a Gnanasekaran sports endowment award every year. I've given a sum of one lakh and every year the best sports person in the school will be awarded in honour of my father. That's one thing which we instituted a few years back – me and my mom – in my school, Kola Perumal Chetty Vaishnav. So, that's one thing we have started and, of course, we’ve donated quite a lot of money to COVID-19 relief as well because this is the time we can help the needy as much as we can. I hope I can give back to society in whatever way possible – both financially or moral support for youngsters for the future.
What’s on your iPod right now? (What music genres and which artists do you enjoy listening to before a match?)
I'm a big fan of A. R. Rehman and his songs always travel along with me to all my tournaments.