He describes his time in Tokyo as a learning curve. Notching up a win on his Olympic debut would have made the experience even better but star Indian paddler G Sathiyan now shifts his focus towards the Hungarian Open, with Paris Olympics in his mind and Manika Batra by his side.
In an exclusive interview with India TV, Sathiyan, who bowed out of the Tokyo Olympics with a second-round defeat against Siu Hang Lam, said that he's set to reunite with Batra in mixed doubles as the duo sets its sights on the 2024 Paris showpiece.
"Manika is a brilliant player and we had a discussion about it after returning from Tokyo. I also talked about it with my coach. We will start with the Hungarian Open, and chalk out our plan and set targets for the Asian Games and Paris Olympics," said the 28-year-old, who defeated veteran Sharath Kamal to clinch his first national title in the build-up to rearranged Tokyo Games.
Batra had an impressive outing in Tokyo, producing the most successful Olympic campaign by an Indian female paddler. She clinched a come-from-behind win over Ukraine's Margaryta Pesotska in the second round before losing to World No. 17 Sofia Polcanova in Round 3.
The Indian contingent, however, had a forgettable mixed doubles showing. Sharath-Manika suffered a first-round exit, ending India's hopes for a table tennis medal. With the introduction of mixed doubles at the Olympics, Sharath and Manika had emerged as India's medal contenders at the event.
Butterflies in the stomach
As the Hungary Open commences from August 17 in Budapest, Sathiyan hopes to start off his reunion with Manika on a high. The Chennai-born also talked about his bittersweet experience in Tokyo.
"I would be lying if I say there was no pressure before my match. There were butterflies in my stomach but I think I could've performed much better against the Hong Kong paddler. Sharath and I had got first-round byes and were raring to go for our matches in the second round.
"Unfortunately, it didn't go in my favour despite gaining a lead. But overall it was a good learning experience. Every athlete is in his best shape at the Olympics and you can't expect easy pickings during the showpiece. Had I won points at crunch situations against Hang Lam, the outcome would've been different. Nonetheless, I've learnt a lot from my Tokyo stint and hope to do well in Asian Championships and Paris Olympics," he said.
Meeting athletes from different sports
Sathiyan, an ardent tennis fan, also described his time at the village as a once-in-a-lifetime experience where he also got to meet top-ranked Novak Djokovic. It was an Olympics like no other -- held without spectators during a pandemic -- but Sathiyan made the most of it during his preparations. With a makeshift set-up at home, he stayed physically active and honed his skills during the lockdown.
"Staying at the village and meeting athletes from different sports are things that I'm going to cherish forever. Saliva tests on a daily basis and yearlong pause before the start of Games did affect the mindset of players but I think now we're used to it. When the pandemic started, I was forced to stay away from the game but my training routine didn't stop. I had a set-up at home that helped me stay in shape.
"I'm a Federer fan but it was amazing to meet Novak Djokovic in Tokyo. I bumped into the Serbian during our stay at the village. He even asked about my sport and it was a surreal feeling to meet him during my first-ever Olympics outing," he said.
Sathiyan feels table tennis is on the rise and the Indian camp's Tokyo showing will bring a positive change ahead of Paris Olympics. He also heaped praise on Sharath's performance against reigning Olympic champion Ma Long. Sharath, arguably India's finest table tennis player, produced an intense contest against the Chinese great in Round 3.
"Sharath was amazing against Long and taking a game against the Chinese was impressive. He definitely was in good touch against his opponent. Manika and Sutirtha also did well. Overall, it was a brilliant campaign for the table tennis contingent. The sport is on the rise and I hope Paris will bring something good to the country," Sathiyan concluded.