Harmeet Desai doesn’t have an animated, fist-pumping signature celebration style like compatriot Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. When the two Indian table tennis players paired up to give India a 1-0 lead in the men’s team final against Singapore at the Commonwealth Games on August 2, Sathiyan’s fiery celebrations lit up the National Exhibition Centre. Desai, in contrast, wagged his index finger in satisfaction.
Even when he pulled off a crucial win over Clarence Chew in the third singles, there was no burst of emotion. Again, he just raised his arms in the moment of victory. His win gave India a 3-1 win and the gold medal. Indian table tennis’ marathon man Achanta Sharath Kamal rushed to hug him as India retained the title it had won for the first time in Gold Coast, Australia, four years ago.
A day after the win, Harmeet is amused when asked about his sedate celebration. “I know the celebration is important. I will try to get a better one,” he laughs as he chats with Sportstar.
Without skipping a beat, though, he adds, “But more than the celebration, I am focused on winning. I am really happy that I could contribute to the team because a team title needs a very strong effort from every member.
“Beating Nigeria and Singapore in two successive fixtures was not an easy task. To be able to deliver under such immense pressure is a great feeling. It gives me confidence for the men’s doubles event which starts tomorrow (August 4). I hope I will continue to perform and win that as well.”
The paddler from Surat, Gujarat, feels the gold medal in Birmingham is really special. “There was a lot of pressure to defend the title. We came in prepared. We had a camp in Portugal, then I attended another camp in Germany. There is no better feeling than beating Singapore, the most successful side at the CWG (four men’s team titles). This is one of the best moments of my life,” says Harmeet, who has been training in Germany since 2018.
A TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) athlete, Harmeet, who developed a liking for table tennis at the age of six, has had a single-minded approach to the sport. For him, it is always about being better than he was yesterday.
Indian paddler Harmeet Desai celebrates with Achanta Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan after winning the table tennis men’s team gold against Singapore at the NEC on day five of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Tuesday, August 2, 2022.
| Photo Credit: AP
Harmeet, a huge fan of tennis player Rafael Nadal, enrolled himself at TTF Biberach, a table tennis academy, in the German city of Ochsenhausen four years ago in pursuit of becoming better.
“I give equal time to physical training and playing. I barely get two months a year to go to India. It’s difficult to stay away from home and my family, but my desire to win medals for my country drives me. Only those who face challenges become champions. That’s my approach to life,” says the 29-year-old, who has been focusing on men’s doubles since 2021.
Harmeet and Sathiyan did not lose a single doubles match on the way to the team title. In the semifinal, the duo, India’s highest ranked men’s doubles pairing at 31 on ITTF rankings, gave India the lead, winning in straight games against Nigeria’s Bode Abiodun-Olajide Omotayo.
Harmeet believes his game has improved since moving to Germany. “After I started training at TTF Biberach under coach Fu Yong (a Portuguese coach of Chinese lineage who has been coaching in Germany since 1995), my game got a big boost in terms of technique. Also, I am stronger than earlier.”
Training in Germany also makes it easier for Harmeet to gain more international exposure, competing across Europe. “I play 15 to 20 international tournaments every year. Staying in Europe makes travelling to tournament venues easier.”
Since 2018, Harmeet’s performance has improved sharply. He broke into the top 100 in men’s singles for the first time in 2019 and won the Indonesia Open. In 2020, he became Gujarat’s first singles national champion.
Having played a key role in India’s successive CWG team titles, Harmeet’s next target is to win the men’s doubles title in Birmingham with partner Sanil Shetty. After the CWG, he will return to Germany to prepare for his ultimate goal. “Winning a medal for the country in the 2024 Paris Olympics is the dream,” he says.