G Sathiyan joked that some seems, winks and phrases had been exchanged between him and Manika Batra. Except this time, no longer as combined doubles companions however warring parties within the ongoing Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) in Pune. Turning up for Bengaluru Smashers, Manika and Kazakh Kirill Gerassimenko beat Dabang Delhi’s Sathiyan and Slovak Barbora Balazova, a mix and consequence that made Sathiyan really feel other but satisfied.
“Playing against each other, and with other foreign players, will also help us to know each other’s game better. She (Manika) was able to read the game well and show good form,” Sathiyan said in Pune. “I hope we can get this form going into the Asian Games.”
At the last Asian Games in 2018, the mixed doubles event gave India a memorable medal. It was Sharath Kamal-Manika then fetching only the second Asian Games table tennis medal for India. It is Sathiyan-Manika now seeking a third in Hangzhou and a shot in the arm for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The recent form of India’s world No.7 pair though has been a mixed bag. They’ve had semi-final runs in WTT Contender events in Doha in January and Tunis last month, but also first-round exits in the last two tournaments in Ljubljana (Star Contender) and Zagreb (Contender) and a second-round finish at the Star Contender Bangkok in April. Each of these early defeats came against Asian pairs, which are bound to lurk at the Asian Games.
Sathiyan and Manika also lost to a lower-ranked Swedish pair in the Round of 16 of this year’s World Championships, where they had made the quarter-finals in 2021; the year they won a WTT title soon after pairing up post the Tokyo Olympics with an eye on Paris.
“There have been some great wins, there have been some bad losses. In mixed doubles, it is normal,” Sathiyan said. “We’ve been improving, knowing each other much better now.”
A key part of that improving process from those “bad losses” is collective analysis. Sathiyan and Manika note down what went wrong, the former said, and spend a lot of time going through videos with inputs from S Raman, Sathiyan’s coach. “Raman sir is actively involved as our mixed doubles coach. He’s been watching specific videos for mixed,” he said.
Some “small changes” should be made to “improve our games even more”, Sathiyan mentioned. That essentially comes to the primary strike, each in serving and receiving. “We’ve been excellent on the rally sport. But firstly of the sport, that is the place the Asians are a lot more potent. likelihood,” Sathiyan mentioned.
With their packed match schedules and singles calls for, operating on that in combination isn’t that simple. Sathiyan and Manika regardless that are creating a mindful effort to try this extra often. Sathiyan traveled to Manika’s coaching base in Hyderabad ahead of the Worlds in May, whilst Manika too went to Chennai. They’re now taking a look at a few coaching blocks ahead of the Asian Games — one in Bengaluru and one in China — to enrich their sport time on the Asian Championships and WTT tournaments. They will compete on the WTT Contender Lima straight away after the UTT concludes.
“I’m touring to Lima just for combined doubles. That’s the dedication I need to give to the development. And you have to display that dedication; go back and forth 30 hours for a combined doubles match. I think like we’re going to have a just right mixture of tournaments and coaching going into the Asian Games,” Sathiyan said.
Sathiyan is optimistic that the commitment, coupled with the identified areas for improvement, will take them to the next level in an event that he believes offers the best chance for an elusive “podium end” for Indian table tennis at the Paris Olympics. The Asian Games will mark “a very powerful pitstop” in that path, a continental test where the six higher ranked pairs — two are from China and one each from Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong — will likely be in the fray with them.
“We have beaten the Korean pair, the Hong Kong pair. We have been close with the others, except the Chinese (No.1 Wang Chuqin and Sun Yingsha); they have probably not lost a match in four years. Except that pair, I feel every pair is beatable,” Sathiyan mentioned. “We’re still top 10 in the world. We’re almost there as far as qualifying for the Olympics is concerned. We’re improving, and there’s much more understanding now. Before Paris, we want to be in the top five and give ourselves the best chance to win the medal.”
Sathiyan-Manika within the remaining 5 tournaments
WTT Star Contender Ljubljana: Round 1
Lost to Wang Yidi/Lin Gaoyuan (CHN) 6-11, 5-11, 4-11
WTT Contender Zagreb: Round 1
Lost to Cho Seungmin/Lee Zion (KOR) 9/11, 11-9, 12-10, 8-11, 11-13
WTT Contender Tunis: Semi-finals
Lost to Shin Yubin/Lim Jonghoon (KOR) 7-11, 8-11, 9/11
World Championships Finals: Round of 16
Lost to Christina Kallberg/Truls Moregard (SWE) 11-5, 8-11, 8-11, 10-12
WTT Star Contender Bangkok: Round 2
Lost to Miwa Harimoto/Shunsuke Togami (JPN) 6-11, 11-9, 11-9, 9/11, 6-11