After stellar 2019, Harmeet Desai eyes Olympics berth

Paddler Harmeet Desai, who won six gold medals besides the Arjuna Award in 2019, is optimistic about the Indian team qualifying for the Tokyo Games.

Harmeet Desai is confident India will send its first squad to the Olympics this year.

Gold medals in the men’s singles and team events at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Cuttack, in the men’s doubles, men’s team and mixed doubles event at the South Asian Games in Nepal, as well as at the Indonesia Open bear testament to the stellar 2019 that Harmeet Desai had – a year in which he was also conferred the Arjuna Award.

“I hadn’t expected that the year would be so great at the beginning of it,” Desai said in a phone conversation.

“I started to train in Germany in 2018 and my game has improved a lot since then. Also, it (the year) was really special because I won the men’s singles gold at the Commonwealth championships... Also, winning the Arjuna Award gave me the confidence and belief that I am on the right track,” Desai said.

READ| Sathiyan welcomes review system in table tennis

Besides the six gold medals, Desai also won a bronze in mixed doubles at Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships and a silver in men’s singles at the South Asian Games. He attributes his success to his training camp in Germany.

“This centre where I got to practise (in Ochsenhausen, Germany) is one of the best training centres in the world. The top players in the world practise there. So, I was really fortunate to have been selected to train there,” said Desai.

The world No. 85 said that working majorly on his technique paid dividends.

“I train there with four coaches. There is no other centre where there is such a great staff of coaches, physiotherapists. I worked on my technique, where I was a bit weaker and I improved majorly on this front. It has helped me become more consistent, more calm. Earlier, I used to panic a lot when the ball was hit to my weaker areas,” he said.

Confident approach

The 26-year-old is optimistic that India will send its first squad to the Olympics this year. The team, seeded fourth, will fight for a ticket to the Tokyo Games at a qualification event in Portugal scheduled to take place from January 22-26.

“Everyone is very confident, everyone has been playing really well for the last two-three years. The team is in a really good mood and we are very optimistic about making it to the Olympics for the very first time. We will be up against a tough opposition. We just hope that our players on that day deliver and that luck is on our side,” said Desai.

READ| Manav Thakkar wins U-21 ITTF Challenge Series title in Canada

The Indian team took part in a week-long training camp organised by veteran Sharath Kamal in Chennai at the end of December, and Desai spelled out the specifics the team touched on at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

“We are working a lot on doubles. Sharath and I haven’t played a lot of doubles in the past because I played a lot with (Soumyajit) Ghosh earlier. I also played a lot with (G.) Sathiyan because we are from the same batch. Be it (Anthony) Amalraj or (Manav) Thakkar, I have played with everyone. The doubles aspect is also very important in the team event because the first match in the team event is doubles. So, we need a really good start. We are trying out different pairs as well,” he said.

The Indian team will be travelling to Dusseldorf, Germany, for a seven-day camp starting on January 13 before flying to Portugal.