CWG gold medallist Harmeet Desai explains how Gayatri Vartak’s involvement in the set-up has helped India retain its first table tennis gold

CWG gold medallist Harmeet Desai explains how Gayatri Vartak’s involvement in the set-up has helped India retain its first table tennis gold

Less than a year since tying the knot with fellow paddler Krittwika Sinha-Roy and joining the long list of table tennis couples in India, Harmeet Desai proved in Birmingham on Tuesday that the wedding bells have been far from being a distraction.

Harmeet played a pivotal role in India trouncing Singapore 3-1 in the table tennis team championship of the Commonwealth Games and retain its gold medal from Gold Coast. It was the first time India successfully defended a table tennis gold medal at the Friendly Games.

In a chat with The Hindu from Birmingham, Harmeet elaborated on the achievement, the preparation, how sports psychologist Gayatri Vartak’s involvement in the set-up has helped him over the last few months and how Krittwika was more confident of him winning the gold than himself. 

Excerpts:

What does playing a crucial role in defending the gold mean to you personally?

It means a lot to have played such a good match at such an important time. Definitely this time, the pressure was much more than the last time because we were the defending champions and India had never defended a gold in Commonwealth Games table tennis, so it was much more pressure. But I was prepared for it. I was ready to play the fourth singles. The doubles helped me a lot. We started off well, I was in good flow and in the doubles itself I felt I was moving really well. I could continue it in the singles and it turned out to be really good.

What did the four of you discuss in the first team meeting in Birmingham?

We wanted to show our strong character during the matches. That’s what we discussed during the first team meeting here. We didn’t want to give any opponent even a slight chance. We did that really well. We were really disciplined. Most of the matches went 3-0 in our favour. We could just wipe out our opponents quickly. In the group stage, despite being in the toughest group, we beat Singapore 3-0 and that put a lot of pressure on other teams. They could feel we meant business and we were in great shape. We were also comfortable with the environment and all three of us (Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan and I) were playing really good at the same time. I don’t remember that happening in the recent past. In 2018, we did that but since then, all of us being at our peaks hasn’t happened quite often. It happened here. I feel when all three of us are at our peak, we can beat any team in the world.

India’s teams have been conventionally unsuccessful in defending the tag of favourites. How did you all manage to turn the tide this time around?

We were a lot more focussed on our respective roles and we were good at executing that. This time, we didn’t change our team composition or combination much. We believed in our roles and that’s how it worked out really well. In the past, sometimes we have changed a lot and that led to some confusion. This time we stuck to the plans. Doubles was working really well. (G.) Sathiyan and I were clear in our plans, so we started playing doubles events together since November last year itself. We were preparing quite well for Commonwealth Games for almost 12 months in advance. I played with Sharath (Kamal) in a couple of tournaments, that always helps. I feel all these factors have led to us retaining the hold medal.

How much has Gayatri Vartak, the sports psychologist, being around in that respect? Can you talk about her role in the build-up to the tournament?

Her presence has helped the team. I can only speak for myself for now. I started working with her since the Bengaluru camp (in May) and since then, I can see the difference in my thought-process. I have become much more relaxed. Earlier I used to panic a lot during the big tournaments, sometimes over-practice and even overthinking was my problem. She has helped me to deal with some of the problems that I used to have. These things definitely help a player to play to his potential and give his best on the table, so her presence has definitely helped the team.

You seem to be playing your role to precision in team events with Sharath and Sathiyan hogging the limelight. How do you look at it?

Yes, I have been really lucky to have gotten such good teammates. They show a lot of belief in me. When I am around them, I feel much more relaxed. It eases my tension off. We believe in each other a lot, we compliment each other. We know the areas or aspects that we must work on and we help each other when times are tough. These things have helped me and the team. Whenever I am playing doubles with Sathiyan — since we know each other for so long — I am so relaxed playing with him. I feel that even when my day is not so good, Sathiyan will take us through. We have that kind of belief in each other. That is helping the team a lot and help us perform better.

What have you been doing since the final got over?

Didn’t get much time for myself since the medal ceremony. Too many interviews and calls from family, friends and well-wishers. Glad in a way that we had a day off today because I was really tired. Getting back into the zone again now and starting to concentrate on the men’s doubles event, which starts on Thursday.

Is this the best wedding gift that Krittwika had asked for?

Haha, kind of. Krittwika is really happy. She was pretty much confident about me. Even when I was leaving India, she said I’ll bring back a gold medal home. Even I wasn’t sure. I felt that this time, it’s going to be very, very difficult but she was pretty confident about it. Yesterday she was like “maine bola tha na”. She couldn’t come here. She was in Tunisia, playing a WTT Tournament, so couldn’t come here.

Are you confident of repeating the podium finish with Sanil Shetty in Gold Coast in men’s doubles?

I am only going to play the doubles events now. I am not playing the singles or mixed doubles, so I am fully focussed on men’s doubles. I hope that I can carry forward my form from the team events to the doubles events along with Sanil (Shetty) and hope for the best.



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