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'Historic and happy day for Indian TT': Harmeet Desai on India's Paris Olympic qualification

Though the Indian men's table tennis team's qualification happened out of the blue, Harmeet has been nurturing the Paris Olympic dream since 2022, when India thumped Singapore to clinch the CWG men's team title for the second consecutive time.

Historic and happy day for Indian TT: Harmeet Desai on Indias Paris Olympic qualification

Harmeet Desai is currently ranked 66th in the world ranking. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 7 March 2024 5:24 AM GMT

Harmeet Desai, the country's highest-ranked men's singles player, reckoned the Indian men's and women's team's qualification to the 2024 Paris Olympics as a 'historic moment'.

"It is a historic moment and definitely a very happy day for the entire Indian table tennis fraternity," Harmeet told The Bridge in an exclusive WhatsApp interaction before flying to Singapore for Smash, one of World Table Tennis' marquee events.

Harmeet, one of the prime architects of the Indian men's team's qualification, credited the 'hard work' and 'commitment' of stakeholders of the game for their 'behind the scenes' contributions in achieving this feat.

"There is a lot of people's hard work and commitment to make it happen like the government, federation, sponsors, coaches, support staff, players and all the people who work behind the scenes," emphasised the 30-year-old.

Harmeet has also stressed that India's qualification for the Olympics will have a lasting impact on Indian table tennis.

"I think it will be a big boost for Indian TT in terms of confidence, belief, popularity, sponsors and much more. Like I said earlier, this is just a beginning for Indian TT," Harmeet stated.

The Indian men's and women's table tennis teams qualified for the Olympics for the first time on March 4 since the team events were introduced to the Games' roaster in Beijing 2008.

Though the Indian teams could not make the cut through the World Table Tennis Team Championships held in Busan last month as they lost in the pre-quarterfinals, they did it through the world rankings window, which was also a tough nut to crack with so many countries fighting for Olympic quota places.

The Indian men's team benefited from their recent good shows and was ranked 15th at the time of qualification, while the women were better placed at 13th. Only the top 16 teams each in men's and women's categories are eligible to play in the Paris Olympics.

Asked whether there was any motto of making it to the Olympics in the team, Harmeet opened up, "We were very close to qualify in 2016 and 2020 olympics to qualify as a team. The team was stronger and we were more determined this time to make it as a team."

'Recent performances made us more confident'

The Surat paddler also emphasised how the favourable results in the last two years helped the team to improve their rankings, gain confidence and believe in themselves.

India won the gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, with Harmeet winning his doubles and singles matches, and made a semifinal finish in 2023 in a tougher field at the Asian Championships in South Korea, where India won a bronze medal.

"A lot of recent performances helped us to get this ranking where we are today like a gold medal in CWG 2022, a bronze medal in the 2023 Asian Championships. That helped us to get a lot more confident that we will be able to make it this time if we all can perform well at the same time," he added.

Talking about the camaraderie in the team, Harmeet said, "It is a mix of youth and senior players. We have a very experienced Sharath Kamal, then Sathiyan (Gnanasekaran) and I have just entered the 30s and then we have Manav (Thakkar) and Manush (Shah) who are in their early 20s. It is for the first time we have such a balanced team where all five are capable to play a match for the team."

Olympic dream

While there was a belief in the team, on the personal front too, Harmeet, who has been India's highest-ranked men's singles player at the 64th, has been nurturing the dream of playing in the Paris Olympics since 2022 when the Indian men's team thumped Singapore to clinch successive CWG gold in Birmingham.

"Since the CWG 2022, my plan has been based on the Olympics. Which tournaments to play or which one to skip, I had my training periods set accordingly too," stated Harmeet, who ended his five-year training stint in Germany last year and shifted back to his hometown Surat after the Asian Games.

"I have shifted back to my base in Surat where I have been training under French coach Julien Girard from October 2023. It is with the help of the Sports Authority of Gujarat and Gujarat State Association that the top players from the state are able to play together in one academy with the guidance of two foreign coaches," revealed Harmeet.

'Wait and watch'

Asked whether there will be any changes in his planning and playing tournaments in the build-up to the Paris Olympics, Harmeet said, "Yes, definitely. Now, since the team has already qualified it would be better to have a few camps to prepare well for the Olympics. The team consists of a doubles match too. So we will need some time to practice the doubles with different combinations and get some match practice in WTT events. But it also depends on the cut of date that will be set by the federation as all the players would try to get maximum points to better their chance to get into the team or get a place in the singles event."

Harmeet is India's highest-ranked men's singles player and a consistent performer in the international circuit. He won his second men's singles title at the National Championship in December beating Sathiyan in the final. Hence, he is also expected to play in the singles event. However, the final selection in men's singles will be done by the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).

For now, Harmeet opted for a 'watch and watch' approach.

"I have no idea at all because we don't know the cut of date of selection from the federation yet. As the official announcement for the team qualification for the Olympics just came yesterday, I think TTFI will announce a deadline for the selection of the team and singles," he said.

"There are still a few months to go before the Olympic Games. So the rankings can change a lot in the upcoming WTT tournaments. So it is better to wait and watch if I am picked for the teams and singles or just teams or neither of the two," Harmeet added.

The selection for two men's singles quota places, which India achieved by virtue of its qualification, could be tricky an issue. Last year, Harmeet lashed out at the TTFI for excluding him from the men's singles event of the Hangzhou Asian Games. With veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal, who played in the Olympics four times, expressing his willingness to focus only on the team event this time, Harmeet and Sathiyan would be the favourites to qualify as the two top singles players of the country.

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