21-year-old L. Sathishwaran is one of the few defensive players to have shot into the national limelight

Defensive paddlers are, generally, quiet and reflective by nature. Perhaps, it's because their game demands immense patience to engage in long rallies and wait for the opponents to commit mistakes. So, when L. Sathishwaran speaks, it's measured and to the point. Neither do his statements smack of bravado nor are they bombastic.

Few players have had as quick a rise to fame as the 21-year-old from Chennai. From near obscurity, Sathishwaran reached the top 10 in the country in the men's section, according to the mid-term classification of the Table Tennis Federation of India.

In November-December last, Sathishwaran finished first in the All-India selection trials of the Life Insurance Corporation of India in Bhopal, and was recently appointed as an Assistant. “I am thrilled with my appointment, and am sure I can win laurels for my organisation, State and country,” he says.

Elaborating on his meteoric rise, Sathishwaran says it's been due to his persistence and keen attention to fitness. “Though defensive, I also attack a lot if the situation warrants it. In today's scenario, you can't win points by being at the back of the table and chopping. If you are given a short ball you have to be quick to finish it off. Defence is 50 per cent and attack, 50 per cent. That's my credo,” he says.

Early training

Satishwaran started playing table tennis when he was a Standard VIII student at the YMCA (Esplanade) under Sowrirajan and Jugo Roy. After a stint in Besant Nagar under A.V. Vidyasagar, Sathishwaran blossomed under the watchful eye of Christopher Anas and Nagam Prasad at Lord's Table Tennis Academy. When he joined the Raman Institute of Table Tennis (RITT) a year-and-a-half ago, Sathishwaran's stock started to rise at the National level. “Under my coaches Raman and Rajesh, I understood the importance of fitness, and the mental and physical aspects of the game well,” he says.

Sathishwaran shot into the National limelight when he defeated higher ranked opponents in the National ranking tournament in Srinagar, early last year. As a qualifier, he defeated the top-seeded Soumyadeep Roy and Anthony Amalraj (he turned out to be the first and only player to defeat Amalraj) before losing to Sanil Shetty in the semifinals. This tournament provided the spark he needed. “My self-confidence grew manifold after Srinagar,” he remarks.

By virtue of being in the top 10 in India, Sathishwaran got to attend National camps and that enabled him to hone his skills. “Playing against top players helped me better my strokes. It showed me where I stood,” he says.

Rajesh, coach at RITT, feels Sathishwaran is hard-working. “How he progresses depends on his mental strength. He has to improve his strokes, learn from his failures and be more patient,” says the former State champion.

“He is a fitness freak,” says Christopher Anas, his former coach. “He has made optimum use of his fitness, mobility and stamina. He has shown remarkable progress. He can go a long way if he varies his defensive strokes and believes in himself.”

He is short on International experience having played in the Indian Open (Pro Tour) in 2010, the Bangladesh League (2011) and the India-Sri Lanka Test this month. Sathishwaran knows he has to work harder to achieve his ambition of entering the top 5 in the country — he will be in the top 16 when TTFI releases its final list.

“Sharath (Kamal) anna has been my role model. I have learnt a lot from Abhishek (another defensive player from Tamil Nadu). I need to focus more on the physical, mental and technical aspects of the game. I know I can scale the summit,” he says.