It was all going downhill. India’s top-ranked paddler G Sathiyan had just lost the first two games 10-12, 7-11 against World No. 9 Germany’s Dang Qiu at the World Table Tennis Team Championships in Chengdu, China and it seemed certain that the European champions and World No. 2 side would level the tie 2-2 and take it to a decider.
But India were on a high. Sathiyan, in the first match of the tie, had come back from two games down to beat 36th-ranked Duda Benedikt 3-2 (11-13, 4-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-9) and though National Games champion Harmeet Desai was outplayed 1-3 (7-11, 9-11, 13-11, 3-11) by Qiu in the second match, Manav Thakkar had punched way above his weight to beat Ricardo Walther 3-1 (13-11, 6-11, 11-8, 12-10) and give India a 2-1 lead.
Sathiyan, captaining the side in the absence of 10-time national champion Sharath Kamal, knew he had to do something extraordinary to stage a comeback.
National coach S Raman, who was earlier Sathiyan’s personal coach, saw that Qiu was a tad uncomfortable in the first game when Sathiyan was changing his pace.
🇮🇳 upset second seeds 🇩🇪 in the group stage of the ongoing ITTF Worlds 2022.
The scoreline aside, the tie was filled with surprises.
— Olympic Khel (@OlympicKhel) October 2, 2022
“All Raman sir asked me to do was to keep mixing my serves and keep changing the pace of the rallies. He just motivated me, saying that I need to believe that I can win,” Sathiyan told The Indian Express after the match.
When he was trailing 3-5 in the third game, Sathiyan mixed up his serves which seemed to perplex Qiu. He just couldn’t adjust to Sathiyan’s variations and lost the game 11-8. The next game was on similar lines. Qiu just couldn’t deal with Sathiyan’s serves and reach and the Indian levelled the match at 2-2.
Though Qiu seemed a bit shaken, he regained his composure and didn’t allow Sathiyan to dominate the final game. That’s when Sathiyan tried everything his coach told him. He switched up the pace in the long rallies, managed to reach and return Qiu’s thunderous smashes and was just throwing up different serves on every occasion.
The plan succeeded. Qiu and Germany were distraught. Sathiyan had his arms outstretched, celebrating. One could see how much it meant to him. India had pulled off one of their biggest victories, over a team that had won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest victories our team has pulled off. All credit goes to Raman sir who chalked out a plan for each opponent. During the games when we were losing momentum, he kept saying that he believed in us and that we could pull this off,” Sathiyan said.
What also helped the Tamil Nadu paddler was the fact that Dang was his teammate at German Bundesliga’s top division club ASV Grunwettersbach Tischtennis in 2018. So, he knew his strengths and the kind of game he plays.
“Though I knew his game, he’s improved a lot. After the pandemic, he’s taken his game to a different level. But what has stayed the same is that if you get into a long rally with him, he’ll likely get the better of you. After the second game, I was reminded of that and decided to completely vary my game every point,” Sathiyan said.
When asked where this win would rate among the victories in his career, Sathiyan said that though he’s beaten then current World No. 4 Tomokazu Harimoto at the 2019 Asian Championships, that win came in a losing cause.
“This was special because we not only won the match but the tie,” he said.
With this win, India have four points from two games and have put themselves in a great position to finish at the top of their group, something which Sathiyan says will give them a great advantage in the knockouts.
“Finishing at the top means we’ll play against a team that has finished second in their group. That could be great for us,” he said.
They face a tough test in Kazakhstan on Monday before their last group tie against France on Tuesday.
Women notch up 1st win
In the women’s draw, India recorded their first win of the group stage with a 3-0 result over Czech Republic.
The Manika Batra-led side had lost to Germany in a close encounter on Saturday.
Manika defeated Hana Matelova 3-1 (11-6, 11-6, 8-11, 12-10) in the first singles before Akula Sreeja and Diya Chitale won their singles against Marketa Sevcikova and Katerina Tomanovska, 3-0 and 3-1 respectively.