The Indonesian city of Jakarta, in late August at the 2018 Asian Games, it was a very special moment for India; the architect of the most memorable occasion was Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
Now, another milestone awaits for the 28-year-old from Chennai; on Saturday 24th July he will make his debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, he competes in the men’s singles event.
In the Jakarta International Expo Hall B, now approaching three years ago, at the quarter-final stage of the men’s team event, lining up alongside Sharath Kamal Achanta and Harmeet Desai, a 3-1 win was recorded against the second seeds, the Japanese combination of Kenta Matsudaira, Jin Ueda and Masaki Yoshida.
The result meant for the first time ever, in a tournament that dates back to 1958 in Tokyo, India had clinched a medal in the table tennis events. It was a watershed occasion.
Hero of the hour was Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, in the opening match of the fixture he gave India the ideal start, he beat Jin Ueda (11-9, 11-9, 11-7); later, in the fourth contest he overcame Kenta Matsudaira (12-10, 6-11, 11-7, 11-4) to secure an overall victory and send Indian players, coaches and supporters into unbridled delight.
It is that form which Sathiyan Gnanasekaran seeks to repeat in Tokyo; since those epic contests in Jakarata, there have been disappointments, especially when trying to secure his invitation to Japan’s capital city.
At the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament in Gondomar, seeded in fifth spot, the position suggesting a place Tokyo was a distinct possibility, India fell short. Following a 3-0 success against Luxembourg, a 3-1 defeat against Slovenia, was followed by the same outcome in opposition to the Czech Republic.
Facing Luxembourg, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran experienced problems against Luka Mladenovic, being required to recover from a two games to nil deficit and the precipice of defeat in the fourth (8-11, 9-11, 11-3, 13-11, 11-6).
A difficult start, life became even more difficult as matters progressed. Against Slovenia he lost to Darko Jorgic (11-9, 12-10, 11-3); confronting the Czech Republic, he was beaten by both Pavel Sirucek (12-10, 13-11, 11-9) and Tomas Polansky 14-16, 12-10, 14-16, 11-8, 11-9).
Similarly, at the World Singles Qualification Tournament held earlier this year in Doha in mid-March, it was defeat at the first attempt; he was beaten in his opening match by Italy’s Mihai Bobocica (11-7, 11-6, 11-8, 11-5).
Eventually, at what was in fact the third attempt, he gained his Tokyo place by emerging successful at the immediately ensuing Asian Qualification Tournament, likewise held in Doha.
Competing in the South Asia regional event, he beat Sharath Kamal Achanta (11-9, 15-13, 5-11, 7-11, 10-12, 11-9, 11-8), prior to securing his Olympic Games place courtesy of success in opposition to Pakistan’s Muhaamad Rameez (11-5, 11-8, 11-9, 11-2).
Sathiyan Gnanasekaran becomes the sixth Indian player to qualify for a men’s singles event at an Olympic Games.
Also, alongside Sharath Kamal Achanta, the tradition is maintained; in the men’s singles, ever since the introduction on table tennis in 1988 in Seoul, India has been ever present
Editor: Ian Marshall