A table tennis giant in the making?

Hyderabad: Satya Aspathi likes to punch above her weight. The lively paddler recently knocked out older rivals to clinch four titles, all in higher age groups.

Even 2022 Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold medalist Akula Sreeja was very impressed. “Satya has great potential. Winning four events i.e. Under 13, Under 15, Under 17 and Under 19 in two consecutive tournaments is not easy.

“It shows his level of consistency and determination to win every game.

I wish him well with all his future endeavours,” the Birmingham fighter said.

In a scenario where many parents are pushing children to compete in lower age groups, the 11-year-old faced stronger and even older opponents. At the Anandnagar Welfare Association (AWA) championship, she defeated Sri Saanvi 3-1 in the U13 semi-final and P. Pragyansha 4-1 in the final.

In the under-15 section table tennis semi-finals, Satya shut out Jalani Paluru 4-0 and crushed runner-up K. Shresta Reddy 4-1. They beat Shresta by the same margin in the U17 semi-final and HS Nikitha 4-1 in the final. Her toughest challenges came in the under-19 section, where she defeated K. Ikshitha in the semi-finals and Jalani Paluri in the final by identical verdicts 4-2.

In the St Pauls table tennis tournament which followed soon after, it was a mix of new and past opponents. A versatile player, Satya’s winning streak continued. In the U13 semi-finals, it was an easy 3-0 win over B. Sri Vidya. In the final, although stretched to 12-10 in the last game, she beat Pragyansha P 4-0.

It was a call-up against Pragyansha in the U15 semi-final but she only conceded one game in the final against Shresta 4-1. With his headbutt, back hand top spin, Satya crushed Kavya Anand 4-0 in the U17 semi-final and beat Nikitha 4-1 in the final.

Opposed to teammate N. Bhavitha in the U19 semi-finals, Satya recorded a 4-1 win and beat Ikshitha by an identical margin to clinch the crown.

Not yet five feet tall, Satya was drawn to table tennis watching her brother Arjun, an under-17 quarter-finalist at last year’s Telangana State Championship. In last year’s Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) rankings, she placed 22nd in the Under 13s and 33rd in the Under 15s.

A sixth-grade student at Pallavi Model School, Boduppal, Satya was congratulated by her alma mater on Independence Day. Apart from supporting Principal Tanuja, the institution has given her free entry into the sports quota and is easing attendance so that she can train for longer hours.

Satya has no sponsors yet, her parents bearing the cost of her campaigns. Fortunately, there is no shortage of those who support her. His coach Maduri Venugopal at GSM TT Academy, Gujarati secretary Seva Mandal (GSM) Janakbhai Brahmbatt, teammates Nikhat Banu, Varuni Agarwal, Monica Manohar and Telangana State Table Tennis Association secretary Prakash Raju are giving him great encouragement.

Faced with the increasing commercialization of coaching, Venugopal sometimes seems to be waging a losing battle. He strives to make coaching affordable and within reach for the common man, despite the difficulties. But the players’ parents and supporters of the game see that his love for table tennis is genuine. They support him in various and unexpected ways.

For example, former GSM student Prisha Dixit, now based in Seattle, donated proceeds from her first published book “Hybrids: Clash of the Elementals” to the academy and its players. His father Priyansh Dixit endorsed the purchase of TT tables. Likewise, Ananya Donekal’s mother, Aparna, contributed TT equipment.

At times, rewards and pay seem to be scarce for Venugopal, single but married to his craft. Even TTFI mandarins recognize his total dedication to his passion. Yet some employers exploit his enthusiasm with meager pay or, in some cases, no pay.

It is indeed encouraging to note that acknowledgment of Venu’s mentorship comes from time to time. He was a part-time coach at the Sadhu Vaswani International School in Kompally for 12 years. The institution’s president, Dr. Harish M. Mirchandani, is like a father figure to Venu.

During the worst phase of COVID-19, when Venu felt death knocking at his door, the eminent cardiologist took great care of the trainer, personally examining him before starting the medical course.

The maker of many champions has been appointed coach of the Telangana team for the next 36e National Games in Gujarat with Somnath Ghosh.

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