NEW DELHI: Harmeet Desai
‘s return to competitive table tennis
hit a speed-breaker on his Europe tour when he was forced to shift his base from France to Germany, after a player in the team of his next opponents in the French league
tested positive for Covid-19.
Having signed for the club Roanne LLTT in January this year, the 27-year-old Desai was trying since August to end his pandemic-forced break to travel for the French League. He was finally able to do that last month, but after winning his first match, Desai had to switch to training in Germany.
The current training base at the Liebherr Masters College in the German city of Ochsenhausen though is not new for Desai. He has been visiting the centre for the last two years to train under his personal coach Fu Yong.
“I started my training in Germany on Monday (October 2). I was in France before this, where I trained for one week and played a match. The second match got postponed because one of the players from the opposite team tested positive for Covid-19,” said Desai talking to Timesofindia.com.
His next match in the French league will most probably be on November 17 and he plans to travel back to Roanne, France, for that on November 16.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit a second wave in Europe, with cases on the rise again, both Germany and France have entered another phase of lockdown. However, all elite sporting activities have been continuing without any crowds in both the countries.
“Yes, the lockdown is in place in France, but the league won’t be affected at all,” said Desai. “In Germany, it’s not a total lockdown. I go for practice twice daily, though only 10 players are allowed in the hall at one time. So that’s not a problem for professional players.
“Precautions have been taken where I am training and also I am living in a confined place. The village is also very small. There are very few people around me,” the Arjuna awardee further said.
“Precautions like wall sanitisation at regular intervals, sanitising the tables, checking temperature of players before they enter the TT hall, all these things are being taken into consideration and I feel quite safe,” Desai, who was part of the Indian men’s team that won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, added.
And to keep away from chances of infection, Desai has a special home-made therapy: the immunity-boosting ‘laddoos’ prepared by his mom. The food items packed by his mother increased his baggage by almost 10 kg.
She has given her son clear instructions to have at least one ‘laddoo’ a day without a miss.
But amid all that, Desai hasn’t lost focus of his next target.
“My goal is to get into the top 50 of world rankings,” said Desai, who finished in the top four of the Oman Open before Covid-19 froze the ITTF calendar. The first tournament after almost a year-long break is expected to be the World Championships most likely in February-March next year.
To hone his skills, Desai could have joined the national camp that is currently on in Sonepat, Haryana. But the announcement for the camp came after he had flown to France, and he was already contracted by his club there.
“I didn’t want to skip the camp actually. I was already in Europe when the camp was announced and I had signed for a club in France back in January 2020.
“Also, I have been training in Germany for the last two years. So I feel I have been improving quite well here and due to the contract that I had signed. I had to come to Europe,” he said.
The Indian TT team has been without a chief coach since Massimo Constatini left in 2018. Dejan Papic was announced as his replacement, but he couldn’t join due to medical reasons.
Desai said it’s not an ideal situation, with the players trying to secure Olympic qualification for the Tokyo Games that have been rescheduled to be held in 2021.
“It’s quite unfortunate for the Indian players to not have a foriegn coach for the last two years…We have been able to do quite a lot of hard work and perform well on the international stage. So I hope that we get a foriegn coach soon so that we can perform even better at the future events,” he further told TimesofIndia.com.
With uncertainty still in the air as the Covid-19 graph refuses to flatten, Desai hopes the World Championships go ahead and India can improve on its performance from the last edition.
“It’s very difficult to say right now, the plans for 2021, because the situation is very much uncertain and there is no schedule from the ITTF. The only tournament (almost) confirmed is the World Championships at the end of February 2021.
“I hope India can achieve a better place than the last time. We got 13th place in the last World Championships. So I hope we get into the top 10,” he signed off.