On cloud nine after bagging medals of every hue at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, India's highest-ranked table tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran now eyes podium finishes at the upcoming Jakarta Asian Games and the 2020 Olympics.
Starting the year as the 46th ranked player, India's highest, Sathiyan grabbed a team gold, men's doubles silver (with Achanta Sharath Kamal) and mixed doubles bronze (Manika Batra) at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
India finished the discipline collecting eight medals, including three gold, two silver and three bronze pieces in Gold Coast.
"With this confidence I think we can win a medal in the Asian Games. That would be fantastic. Winning a medal in Asian Games is as good as winning a medal in the Olympic Games," Sathiyan told IANS in a telephonic interview.
The Asian Games will be held from August 18 to September 2 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Tokyo is the host city of the Olympics two years from now.
"If we win a medal in Asian Games, we have a really good chance of winning a medal in the Olympic Games as well," he said.
India had picked up five medals at the Delhi CWG in 2010. The 2014 Glasgow Games was a poor outing with only Sharath managing a silver in the company of A. Amalraj in men's doubles.
At the Gold Coast, the Indian squad surpassed our expectations, according to Sathiyan.
"We did a great job. We were actually expecting a good performance. We surpassed our expectations. I should accept that," said Sathiyan, 25.
"We have done really, really well. We wanted to equal our performance of 2010. We were looking forward for that and had our goals set," the Chennai youth added.
"But I think we went beyond expectations, winning medals in all the events. This is phenomenal. We did better than what we thought we could."
Sathiyan said their show at such a big stage as the CWG made people sit up and take notice of table tennis in India. But in the last few years, they have been taking giant strides in the right direction.
"The Games is something big. So it (our achievement) is being seen on a bigger scale now. But the sport itself, the players have grown a lot in the last few years," said Sathiyan, who won gold in the Spanish Open last year.
"We won medals in pro tours and our rankings have also improved. These are all signs that something big is waiting to happen. It's been a process. Me, Harmeet (Desai) and (Soumyajit) Ghosh started playing abroad very early in our careers. Sharath (Kamal) has set the benchmark for what a player can achieve with hard work."
Sathiyan also put it down to team bonding and the fact that the core group of Sharath, Harmeet, Mouma Das and Manika Batra have been playing together for some time now.
"The team has become formidable now. The bonding was very high as we came up the ranks together from junior to senior. The bigger goal is an Olympic medal now. That is the team vision," he said.
Heaping praise on Manika, who won four medals including two gold, one silver and a bronze to become the Games' most successful Indian athlete, Sathiyan said she has done women's table tennis a world of good.
"There was so much quality and that kind of stamina...she had matches on the same day. After losing a very close mixed doubles semi-final, it's hard to come back and perform the way she did. She has set an example for women's table tennis which has been in the shadows I would say," he felt.
Sathiyan signed off by crediting his personal coach and former national champion S. Raman for transforming him as a player.
"He has been phenomenal as he helped me become more aggressive and I improved a lot tactially and technically under him. He has been a big influence in my career," Sathiyan concluded.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)