For Sathiyan, it was just a stepping stone in his search for a singles medal at the CWG 2022. Talking exclusively to TOI before flying out to Birmingham, Sathiyan’s answers had the lucidity of his forehand drive and the nuances carried the spin of his backhand slice.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did the training camp in Portugal go?
Training has been excellent in Portugal. We got to train in similar conditions like Birmingham, same butterfly tables, similar weather conditions, same time zone. It helps, you know. We had serious and satisfying sessions ahead of the CWG under the guidance of our coach Raman Subramanian. We also got to play a lot of doubles. We also had top class sparring partners. Certainly we had a very good preparation coming at the right time.
Do you think your preparations for CWG has been satisfactory, confidence-wise?
Yes. For the Commonwealth Games, we had one national camp in Bangalore followed by the one in Portugal and then we played some tournaments. It’s been excellent, a good mixture of both training and matches. The confidence is great. Of course, having a win against Darko (world No. 6) in Zagreb before the Games has given me a lot of confidence. So it’s looking good and the confidence level is on an upward curve. I am hoping I can take it to the Games.
India’s history at the Commonwealth Games
Since you have a fair idea of the draw, where do you think the main challenges will come from?
I have studied the draw and have a fair idea about the ensuing contests. You know there are some good teams. We have England, Nigeria, Canada and Singapore, so from the quarterfinals onwards, things will start getting hotter. Of course in the medal rounds (semi final and final), the competition will be even more intense. We should be making the last eight-stage in every event but from there on we have to be really good. I hope we can defend our title this year again.
Have you planned out a strategy for yourself in your quest for the singles medal this time? Is your win over Jorgic Darko a marker of things to come?
Yes we have analysed all the potential opponents, including Liam Pitchford (England), Quadri Aruna (Nigeria) with my coach. We have chalked out a strategy and we have seen their matches. Certainly the win against Darko, like I said, has given me a lot of confidence. I have been moving really well, hitting the ball very well and playing quite aggressively. Certainly I hope to win a singles medal this time around.
The most encouraging aspect in Indian TT of late has been your doubles partnership with Manika Batra. Have you figured out what exactly works for you two?
It is somewhat inexplicable, you know that my partnership with Manika has blossomed so well. We actually have surpassed our expectations by reaching the world No. 6 rank in such a short time (less than a year) and have some great wins against the top-pairings in the world. It has been something special for us. We had a fine run at a recent tournament in Budapest where we lost in the semifinals. We have spent some quality time understanding each other’s game, complementing each other and pushing each other to play to our strengths. Last time (2018) we won a bronze. This time we definitely want to change the colour of the medal in mixed doubles.
How do you read your graph from 2018 Gold Coast till today?
After Gold Coast CWG, I started working with Vaibhav Agashe sir, my mental conditioning coach. A lot of learning and unlearning followed. He trained me to control my emotions and gave me inputs on how to express myself in the big games. The atmosphere in the multi-sport event is completely different, a unique challenge in itself. I want to keep things as simple as possible leading up to the Games. I want to strictly focus on my goals and keep my match strategies in place. In the years since the Gold Coast Games, I have gathered a lot of experience playing in the Asian Games and the Olympic Games. I hope to make good use of that in Birmingham.
Finally, what’s your expectation from the Indian team? How are you guys planning to improve on the 8-medal haul…
At Gold Coast, we won a medal in every event and even won two medals from one event. That is amazing. I think eight is the best haul one can get out of CWG. Now we are facing the pressure of expectations. Even if we could equal the feat, I would believe we have bettered our Gold Coast show. Our realistic aim is to win five to six medals this time around as the contest would be very tough for sure. Even that conservative estimate will be very good.