First Touch: The formative years of paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran 

Sathiyan picked up a paddle when he was just four
By Soham Mukherjee

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran was mischievous in his childhood. Since his father was posted in Zimbabwe and his mother was working in a bank, he had a free reign at home. Vexed by his tricks and pranks, his mother got him enrolled in a table tennis academy.

"At just four, I had started pulling sofas. That's when SDAT Medimix Academy opened close to our house and I joined it," the paddler told Olympics.com.

His elder sister was tagged along with him to keep an eye on him. But the problem was, he was so short at that time, he did not even reach the height of the table. Yet, there was no let-off and he had to go there every day. And soon he started liking the sport.

"The speed of the game fascinated me," he revealed.

He was making rapid progress and at just eight he represented Tamil Nadu U12. The youngster was already punching above his weight. His performance graph showed no signs of slowing down and at 12 he was selected to play for the U15 national team.

"That was my first international tournament and it was in Doha. The same Doha."

It was in the capital city of Qatar, that Sathiyan qualified for Tokyo 2020 after defeating the likes of fellow Indian Sharath Kamal and Pakistan's Muhammad Rameez. However, the trip undertaken over more than a decade back was no less special. It was his first international trip and he remembers it all.

"India had never won a medal in the U15 category and we came back with silver. When I saw the kit for the first time in Delhi, the India kit, I was overwhelmed. That was a very special moment."

Even after this success at the international level, he was still not convinced to make a career out of table tennis. He was brilliant in studies which further complicated matters for him. Although his parents were supportive, they were not very eager to push Sathiyan to become a professional sportsman as it involved risk and instability.

"When you are good at one thing, it is easy, but when you are good at two things, you have to choose one to excel. That becomes difficult."

But a gold medal in the U18 Commonwealth Games in Pune changed the course of his life. He was just 15 and yet he got the better of many senior players to ultimately finish at the top spot on the podium.

"That's when I realized that I should take up the sport more seriously and professionally."

In 2011, he went on to bag a medal in the World Junior Championship and five years later he announced his arrival at the senior level on the international stage when he defeated Nuytinck Cedric 4-0 in the finals of the Belgium Open to become the first Indian to win an ITTF event on European soil.

In 2020, he signed a professional contract with the Japanese T-League side Okayama Rivets and became the first Indian to do so. The experience of playing in Tokyo could come in handy especially because the boards that are used in Japan are not so popular in the rest of the world. Hence in the upcoming Olympics, it would not be surprising if he causes a couple of upsets.

When does G Sathiyan's Tokyo 2020 campaign start?

Sathiyan will start his Olympic campaign with a Round 2 match in men's singles on July 25th, Sunday. He will play the winner of the Round 1 match between Puerto Rico's Brian Afanador and Hong Kong's Lam Siu Hang.