Still getting used to new normal in European Table Tennis: Harmeet Desai

National table tennis champion Harmeet Desai has done well to cope with things, both on and off the table, given the stringent COVID-19 restrictions in Europe.

The Surat-based 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medal-winner was the first Indian paddler to travel and play abroad during the pandemic earlier this month. He plays for Roanne LLTT in the French League and won two matches last week.

However, with the third match (November 8) getting postponed (to November 17) as an opposition player tested COVID positive, the World No. 72 has flown to Germany to train under his coach Fu Yong. "It was a nervous start, getting back to competitive TT after seven months. I have this habit of wiping my hands on the table but before the match, the umpire clearly told me that I cannot touch the table. Initially, I was trailing 0-3 in both games but fought back and won," Harmeet, 27, told mid-day from Germany on Thursday.

Strict sanitisation

Sanitisation of tables and balls are the new normal in professional TT. "They sanitise the table after every game. The ball is also sanitised and changed after each game. There are no handshakes permitted too," said Desai, who has undergone COVID-19 tests at airports in France and Germany. "In Germany, the norms are very strict.

You have to wear masks and sanitise yourself at all times. At the club where I practise, they take your temperature before entering the training hall. You have to wear masks even in the hall. You can remove your mask only if you are training or doing some physical activity while distancing from other players. Europe is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, so things will only get stricter now as a lockdown may be enforced soon," said Desai, who played for Puneri Paltans in last year's Ultimate Table Tennis League.

Indian paddlers are currently attending a 35-day national camp in Haryana but Desai said he cannot be part of it. "I won't be able to join the camp because I had already signed for my club here. So, I'll be playing in the French League, hoping the situation doesn't worsen. I'll train in Germany and will be Europe for another two months," added Desai.

Loaded with food

Food is another crucial aspect that Desai is mindful of. "I normally travel abroad with 20-25kg luggage but this time, my bags weighed 45kgs. Of the three bags I've carried, two are full of food items that I can cook. I knew it would be difficult to eat out here. Thankfully, I'm living in a small village, there aren't many people here. I'm virtually in isolation, so I feel safe," he signed off.

Desai's immunity-boosting laddoos!

Ladoo

India TT champ Harmeet Desai has stuffed his bags with a lot of food for his ongoing Europe trip and one of the most important contents of his luggage are mum Archana's specially prepared immunity-boosting laddoos (below).

"The laddoos are a mix of dates, figs, raisins, cranberries, blue berries, goji berries, cashews nuts, walnuts, dried cherries, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, groundnut, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger powder, ganthoda powder, whey protein, sattu, oats, almond, pistachio, sattu and roasted moong powder," he says. And the 'dosage'? "I have to eat one laddoo every day," says Desai, adding that his mum, a primary school principal in Surat, calls him daily to ensure they are consumed.

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