Harmeet Desai has emerged as the young “Golden Boy” of Indian Table Tennis, clinching gold for his state of Gujarat for the first time in National Games history. He was the one who won two consecutive gold medals at the CWG 2022 and has recently captured the attention of nations with his scintillating performance at the National Games 2022 in Gujarat.
He spoke exclusively to The Daily Guardian. Here are the excerpts.
Q. Since when do you play table tennis? Ever since you started playing, did you even have an idea that you would brighten the name of Gujarat and the country?
A. So I started playing at the age of 6, and I never thought that I would be able to play so well or reach this level. I enjoyed the sport, and I started at a very, very young age, and I even couldn’t reach the height of the table at that time. So it became my passion very soon after I started playing table tennis, and I just wanted to enjoy the sport and give my best shot every time I entered the court. And somehow, with a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, and also a little bit of luck, I managed to reach this landmark.
Q. What thoughts come to your mind when you have a match?
A. Yeah, so actually, before the match, there are many thoughts coming to my head, and it always happens to players around the world, and I get nervous. But I’ve been used to it, as I’ve been handling it for so many years. I like the pressure, and I’ve been able to play well when there is more and more pressure on me. So, I enjoy playing during those times, and also before the match, I try to plan my strategy, which is how I’m going to approach the match, and also I try to read my opponent’s game through some videos or past meetings. I draw lessons from my mistakes and make amendments accordingly. So these are the kind of things I try to think about before the match.
Q. What do you do to keep your morale strong before a match? Do you have a game plan already set, or do you prepare a game plan based on the game of the opposing player?
A. Yeah, so it’s really important to keep yourself positive during difficult situations and especially before a match. So I tend to be very positive, keep my body in an energetic mode, and I’m always looking forward to playing good matches, so whenever I have tough opponents, I try to strategize against them. I try to learn their weaknesses and strengths. And accordingly, I created my game plan. And like I said previously, I also watch some of their games. Always, I’m trying to keep my body language really good, even if I’m nervous. I never try to show my opponent, so I practise these small techniques before a match to always achieve a win-win situation.
Q. We have come to know that you love to eat sweets. But when you play in a big tournament, how do you control the urge to eat the same thing?
A. Yeah, I like to eat a lot of sweets, but it’s really important that I keep myself fit, and before tournaments or important matches I tend to keep myself away from eating sweets because it slows you down. And this is one of the reasons that I refrain from eating sweets or sugary items, and that has been working well for me in the past few years. Also, as I’m growing older, I need to keep my body fit and lean so that I’m able to move well and compete with the younger opponents and also extend my career as long as possible.
Q. What kind of encouragement is given by the Gujarat government to table tennis games?
A. The support from the Gujarat government has been encouraging, and since 2009 they have been supporting me through the Shaktidoot scheme. And then they started the Khel Pratibha Puraskar and many such initiatives, which have been helping all the table tennis players and other sportspersons in the state. And Gujarat has come a long way in the last eight to ten years, with Gujarati athletes proving themselves on major stages such as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and Olympics, where we had a very small number of participants. But Gujarat has been doing quite well in the recent past. So also, now that the national games have been organised in a great way, I feel that Gujarat will improve.