Harmeet Desai lived his dream on Monday, 22 July. In 2004, a joyous him had watched Sharath Kamal clinch the men's singles title in Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships on TV. After 15 years, he was on the winners' podium himself, collecting the same prize. For the 26-year-old born in Surat, the feeling is yet to sink in.
"This is the most important title I have won. I watched (Sharath) Kamal on TV when he won it in 2004. I was very happy an overjoyed for him. To win it myself, it is a special feeling. I feel that it will take time to sink in," Harmeet told Firstpost.
The last one year has been fruitful for Harmeet, who started playing the sport from age of seven. He clinched two medals at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2018, a men's team gold and a bronze in men's doubles. The sweet taste of success, however, come at a cost. "I did not eat any ice-cream till the Asian Games 2018," he said, before happily admitting, "I started eating a little bit after that. I keep on eating it every now and then."
But that's not the only and most difficult sacrifice Harmeet has made in his career. He missed a lot of fun in his childhood courtesy of a sporting career that began at the age of seven. "I started training away from home since I was seven years old. I had gone to Ajmer to train at Table Tennis Academy. There was a Chinese coach I was training under. I stayed there for one year away from home." Staying far from home on many occasions while growing up is a huge sacrifice and he agrees to it.
However, last year at CWG it was all worth it. On being asked which moment he considers the best in his life, he was quick to respond. "Actually, the first is always special. That (CWG gold) was my first medal in CWG games. For me, hearing the national anthem and watching your flag going up was very special. That moment is difficult to describe in words. Also, what I won on Monday I had never thought of achieving it. I never imagined that I could win it. Winning the singles gold is a big thing. Feel lucky that I am one of the two guys who won it for India."
Luck alone, however, was not going to get him the title. Harmeet was 0-2 down in the final and then began what was a grind that lasted very long against the tournament favourite G Sathiyan. But the Surat boy had made plans for a long drill.
"I knew that it would be a very tough match against Sathiyan. It was never going to be easy. He is in best form of his life. I had my plans and strategies against him. The last few times I played against him were close contests as well but I could not convert them into victories. I had the belief even after losing first two games that I can make the comeback. I just took it point by point. I just wanted to stay focused and positive and give my 100 percent to each and every point."
While he must be physically exhausted with the tournament coming to an end and that too with such resounding victory in a hard-fought final, there is no breather for Harmeet to relax and no time to extend the celebrations. He is going to compete in Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) 2019, playing for a the new franchise Puneri Paltan. Harmeet did not waste any time and was in Delhi, the venue for UTT, a day after the title clinch to start the practice. He acknowledged the tournament's contribution in Indian TT's recent success.
He said, "UTT has helped us prepare well for international matches. In the last year or so, you can see the graph going up. Everyone has been doing good in senior or junior, men and women's events. Rankings have improved and everyone is winning medals. The belief has gone up. The belief is there that we can beat the best in the world today. Take on the top players in the world."
While India have tasted success in last year or so, the seven gold medals sweep at the Championships happened without a coach. Massimo Costantini who was very successful in his long stint had to quit the job due to family reasons. The Table Tennis Federation of India had roped in new foreign coach Dejan Papic in March but he is yet to join the team. Papic is now expected to join the team next month, resulting into the Indian team losing crucial time in preparation for the Olympics qualification.
Speaking on the matter, Harmeet said, "It is very unfortunate. After such a golden year of table tennis in India, we don't have a coach right now. All I have heard is federation is trying to get a coach as soon as possible. We expected the previous coach would stay. He was a good coach and results show that. Due to his personal reasons he had to go. Unfortunately, we didn't have anyone since he left."
And the clock is ticking. Harmeet, however, is hopeful that next year at Olympics, things may change for good. "We have never qualified for Olympics in team events. This time we have the best chance. We are focussing on the rankings, and then hopefully playing the World qualifiers to make the cut."
Updated Date: Jul 24, 2019 13:23:01 IST