Paddler Harmeet reminisces on his remarkable journey

The 24-year-old has come a long way since playing his first National aged eight. The youngest to be enrolled in the PSPB Academy in Ajmer, homesickness saw the sprightly child retrace his steps back to his native Surat.

Harmeet Desai was crowned men’s singles champion in the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) inter-unit table tennis championship.   -  G. Ramakrishna

“Dreams are not visions you see in your sleep but those that keep you awake,” is a saying that drives Harmeet Rajul Desai, crowned men’s singles champion in the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) inter-unit table tennis championship at the Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy indoor stadium on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old has come a long way since playing his first National aged eight. The youngest to be enrolled in the PSPB Academy in Ajmer, homesickness saw the sprightly child retrace his steps back to his native Surat. “There were no good coaches,” he said of the diamond town. Before long he was back in the game’s fold and on a remarkable journey upwards.

Ranked sixth in sub juniors when 12, by 15 he was in the 2010 Commonwealth Games probables ! “Although I was youngest among them and the worst, I got to train with the best. Not much later he claimed the bronze in the Asian junior championships at Bangkok and returned to reach the final of the South Zone National ranking tournament at Bengaluru. Defeating the big guns such as Anthony Amalraj, Sanil Shetty and Jubin Kumar, top-ranked for that tourney, boosted Harmeet’s confidence. The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) then short-listed him for specialized coaching under the game’s all-time great Peter Karlsson in Sweden.

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During that three-month stint, he caused a couple of upsets in the World Junior championships at Bratislava, Slovakia, running the world no. 16 close. The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) then arranged to extend his stay with Karlsson. In the following year, he claimed the Austrian junior open singles title, a feat none else could replicate.

The under 21 years title was his at the Brazil Open in 2012. Only second to Achanta Sharath Kamal in such accomplishment, Harmeet then claimed the men’s single title at the Fajr Cup tournament in Tehran. On the national firmament, 2013 was most productive. In the space of a week, he claimed the West Zone ranking under 21 and men’s titles at Gandhidham and the latter again at the Central Zone event in Thane.

Also read: Stay close to table, exhorts Amalraj

In 2014, Harmeet became the first Indian to reach the Qatar Open World Tour platinum series (which carries the highest prize money) final at Doha, losing to France’s Tristan Flore. He then combined well with Soumyajit Ghosh to clinch the doubles silver at both the Australian and Philippine opens. The duo took their partnership further with triumph in the men’s team and doubles at the Surat Commonwealth Championships.

“Ghosh flicks a lot to feed the fast game I relish and I in turn mix it up well for him to indulge in his mind games,” says Desai. “But the big difference has been made by Karlsson, who guides me all the time,” concluded the current world No. 60.

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