G Sathiyan: 2020 was terrible, 2021 will be testing, but nothing is too much for indomitable human spirit

From training with a robot to binging-watching movies with his mother, table tennis star G Sathiyan looks back at the year 2020.

G Sathiyan December 28, 2020 16:39:08 IST
G Sathiyan: 2020 was terrible, 2021 will be testing, but nothing is too much for indomitable human spirit

File image of G Sathiyan. Image courtesy: UTT

I am currently in Japan, playing in the prestigious T League for Okayama Rivets. It is an amazing country, and I am playing some high-quality matches and undergoing some high-quality training with top-five or top-ten players of the world despite the international circuit coming to a standstill. As far as learning and preparations for the Olympics go, I couldn't have asked for better exposure.

I came to Tokyo on 24 November, following which I was in a 14-day quarantine. It was a soft quarantine, which means I was getting to play for two hours a day and I could go out to eat or shop within a one-kilometre radius from my hotel. However, I couldn't go to the gym or train twice a day, so that was tough. I definitely lost some momentum because of that.

My quarantine got over on 9 December, and my first match was on 10 December. Over the next 14 days, I played about eight matches... overall, my stint in Japan has been great. I love the food, especially. I think I have become a fan of Japanese food. I have tried sushi, ramen, Japanese curry, and the local cuisine, and I simply love it. The club has been really kind to take me around, and I like Tokyo a lot.

I am particularly enamoured by the Olympic mood in the city. I can see the Olympics posters everywhere, which has got me into the Olympic mood as well. I feel motivated and I am looking forward to coming here again in a few months for the Games.

Year 2020 has been a life-changing year for everyone, and I am no different. However, it gave me a rare opportunity to spend some quality time with my family. It (family time) is a luxury for all sportspersons and it was really nice to be with my mon for such a long time after such a long time. I don't remember when I was at home for so long, perhaps during by Class 12 exams, and that too for only two months.

Lockdown was a blessing in disguise in that sense. I got to speak to my mom regarding some of my matches, life, movies, and so on. I did quite a lot of video calls with my sisters. As a family, we developed a great understanding of each other due to wide-ranging discussions on politics and sports. I made it a point to watch one movie a day with my mother. I am a big movie buff, but I never got time to indulge. Movie-watching with mom was a completely different experience, and we watched movies in multiple languages.

I also ate well. I had missed home food for a while now, and my mom made sure I got what I liked. We had moved into a new bigger house just last year, and I had barely been there...so, lockdown gave me an opportunity to get used to my own house. I really wanted this time with my family, and though three months is a little longer than I would have wanted, it refreshed me for the training and goals ahead.

It was a time that I will never forget. I was also lucky to have a robot at the house, because of which, I managed to stay in touch with my skills. It was a very advanced robot that could throw 120 balls a minute with varying spins, trajectories, and speeds, but still, the feel and connect of playing against a moving, breathing person was missing. To ensure I didn't get bored, my trainers started giving me weekly challenges.

After a point of time, training without any goal becomes monotonous, so such short-term targets were absolutely necessary. So, we analysed how I was playing certain strokes against the robot, and the target would be to increase the number by, let's say by 10, the next week. Similarly for push-ups, and so on. This made sure that neither my skills nor my fitness really dipped.

My serve-receive skills and especially my physical strength really improved. These processes kept me in a self-tournament mode, and each target met would make me very happy. Then, yoga is something that I started just before the lockdown and took it seriously during the lockdown. I also started some gardening. The kind of aggressive person that I am, I think both these interests helped me become a calmer person who can control his emotions a lot better.

I also did a lot of physical training for strength and endurance. My trainer Ramji Srinivasan was always on the video call to guide me and make sure I stick to the schedule. The first week of lockdown was very hard; it was completely new and put me off guard. Then, I realised that it is important to have a routine. I started to wake up on time, by 6:30-7 am, and do my fitness drills, then breakfast, and so on. If you sleep late and wake up late, it is not going to help. The new routine was tough to get used to initially, but you need to be mentally strong. In terms of my game, I found time to analyse my strengths and weaknesses. My coach went through my videos and helped me get better, and I tried to implement those suggestions against the robot. When I started my normal training again, we were able to pick from where we had left.

As a person, I think 2020 changed me a lot. Watching the news of migrant labourers walking back across the lengths of the country was disturbing, and in my little way, I made some contribution towards some noble causes. I think we, as a society, help others only when there is a calamity. Instead, helping the less privileged should be a habit and an everyday affair in our country. I started an endowment award for the best sportsperson at the school I studied in, so that's a start. I realised that when you are in a position to help, you must, and set a good example for the next generation.

I think 2021 will be a game-changing year. As an athlete, I am really looking forward to the Olympics. We are very close to qualification, but that alone is not the motive. We want to go there and make a mark. I am targetting to break into top-15 and beat a few top-10 players. I also want to do more social work in 2021, perhaps tie-up with some organisations and support a child's education. To all my fans, I want to say, 'Do not lose hope.' 2020 was a terrible year, 2021 will be tough too, but nothing is too much for the indomitable human spirit. I am very thankful for your support, and I wish all my fans and readers of Firstpost a very happy new year.

(G Sathiyan is one of India's premier male table tennis players. Currently ranked 37th in the world, Sathiyan is ably carrying forward the legacy from Achanta Sharath Kamal. He spoke to Shantanu Srivastava)

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