Paddler G Sathiyan has been flying across the length and breadth of the planet to take part in international competitions, right after the travel-restrictions began to ease.
In October, he flew to Poland to ply his trade in the Polish Table Tennis League for two weeks and then to Tokyo to participate in the T-League for the Okayama Rivets. Needless to say, that in both countries he was subject to strict quarantine rules due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
But quarantine in Japan had one considerable upside: the food.
"When I was in Tokyo, the size of my room was that of a table tennis court. I was allowed to step out of my room for only two hours a day. I was given a small room with a table in it and a sparring partner. They were maintaining strict Covid protocols, and they are the need of the hour. The hospitality was very good. And yes, Japanese cuisine was fantastic," Sathiyan told The Times of India.
The tournament allowed him to soak in the atmosphere of the Tokyo Games. It also pushed him to his limits as he went up against some of the best in the business.
"I was waiting for Japan for so long. I just wanted to get the feel of the Olympics. Going to Tokyo was very helpful for me. The league was of a very high standard. All the players were ranked higher than me; most of them were top-20 players. Even without the crowd, the matches were so intense. I have played four matches, won one and lost three. The victory was against a top-ranked player. I would have done better if I had more time to prepare.
"It was a welcome experience to play against some of the world's best; the high-quality competition was perfect for some pre-Olympic preparation."
Sathiyan pondered on some technical aspects which force a player to make adjustments to his style depending on whether he is playing in Europe or India.
"No one is aware of it, but the tables we play vary from one country to another. There is more friction on the surface in India because of heat, which means that the ball flies off the table and spins a lot. The footwork skills don't exist here. Whereas in Europe, the tables are generally slower and it does not have much spin, and that's why you will see more rallies in the match," he explained.
He chose to make an analogy with tennis to further elaborate on the difficulties of a paddler.
"Tell a Nadal (Rafael) or Federer (Roger) to play on a clay court today and next day they will have to play on grass. Imagine how difficult it is going to be for them. This is what we face in table tennis when we play in Europe and then come back to play in India. The mental shift is very important because the same ball in India will behave differently in Europe."
However, he mentioned that the Japanese boards were somewhere in between; neither too slow nor too fast.
The 37th-ranked player in the world is yet to win the national title, having lost thrice in the semi-finals and finals apiece. But this time he hopes to turn things around.
On Monday, Sathiyan defeated Sanil Shetty 11-9, 11-9, 11-13, 11-8, 11-6 to enter the semi-finals of the ongoing TT Nationals.
"It is the first time I got three weeks of training at home for the national championship. I have prepared well, and hopefully, I will be lucky this time," he concluded.