Image Credits: Mudit Dhani
Paddler Mudit Dani talks to Fisto Sports about his formative years, his grandmother, confident transition from junior to senior and conquering his mental demons and much more.
From taking on the paddle casually, to bagging medal after medal, Mudit Dani was the name making headlines frequently at the Junior circuit of Table Tennis. The youngster who stormed into the Top 10 Rankings of the ITTF Junior circuit bid adieu to his incredible run with three Gold and just embarked onto the Senior levels of the sport.
On making his cut into Senior Category, the 21-year-old who already exhibited traits of his mettle at the Junior levels, has started making ripples at the senior Category too.
Mudit, who secured his maiden medal at the Seniors, shares his sporting journey and his experience with the sport in an exclusive Interview with Fisto Sports.
What brought you to the sport and what made you take the sport professionally?
During the summer of 2006, my Nani (Maternal Grandmother) underwent a heart surgery. Me and my cousins moved in with her to give her company. I spent most of my summer there playing table tennis, and that was my first introduction to the game. One such day in summer, my grandmother’s friend came on to visit her and he saw us play. He also told me I was quite good with the racket, but I just laughed it off and took his comment airily.
Later that night my grandmom told he was none other than Ratish Chachad, an ex-national table tennis coach. And she also told me he had offered to train me. My eyes lit up and I took it up at once as I have always had a fascination for the different styles, spins and speed of the game. I couldn’t wait longer for my first formal training session with such an esteemed person and learn the sport under his tutelage.
As the years passed, passion turned into hard work and sacrifices. While it would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel like I was missing out a big part of merriment in my teenage years, the experiences I gained while playing tournaments, losing and fighting back harder, and of course the feel of a win, overshadowed every doubt in my mind and assured me that this is exactly what I wanted to do. It was also always about representing the country, and ever since I played under our ‘tiranga,’ there has been no looking back.
How would you describe your playing style and your game?
I am a right-handed attacking player. I like using my blocks and counter attacking strokes to displace my opponent before taking over the rally and being aggressive. That said, my aim is not to be defensive but in my younger days I was never the fittest and thus was often forced to play this way. Thus, it comes very naturally to me. The nature of the game has changed now and is very aggressive, so I try to blend in my natural game with aggression.
Are there any major life turning incidents you’ve been through?
A couple of major (positive and negative) turning points have shaped my career. If I had to choose one positive and one negative, they would be:
Positive: Breaking into the top 10 of the ITTF World Junior Circuit Standings (Boys) was monumental for me. It boosted my confidence level to a great extent. That I believe was the start of the beautiful transition as it changed my mindset from playing for joy to going pro and dedicating my life to the game for the love of the game.
Negative: I injured by shoulder when I was 13. I was out of the game for over 6 weeks and no treatment or medication seemed to be helping. Eventually, with the help of my grand mom, I got to visit Shri BKS Iyengar Ji in his yoga centre in Pune. He hung me upside down and the pain was unbearable – I still remember crying loudly in the middle of the class. But, after a few more sessions, he asked me to continue practicing at home with my grand mom. After a few weeks of these yoga exercises – and a lot more tears – my shoulder blade got stronger and I could play again.
What are your short-term plans and long-termgoals?
Well, currently I am stuck at home due to COVID19. I am working on the physical aspect of my game by using a spin cycle for cardio, working on my core strength, using Therabands and a lot ofHIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and body weight exercises under the guidance of my fitness coach, Yogesh Kanchgar sir.
I just broke into the top 200 of the men’s singles rankings (#6 from the Indians) so that’s a big step for me. With the current situation, the schedule for the upcoming 12 months is on a loom. I will have to reassess mu schedule on gaining more information on the calendar. Long term, it is my dream to represent India at multisport events like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and so on.
How did you feel when you won your first medal in the Senior Category at the US Open? Describe your transition from the Junior to the senior category.
The last point of the quarterfinal was by far one of the best moments of my career I really did not know what to feel as winning the bronze was the slightest of my expectations when I stepped on the tournament. I was injured and out of contact with the sport for a week. Thoughts of pulling out of the event, even crossed my mind as I had showed up purely on the dint of rehab for a week, with no practice prior the event. But as the feeling settled in, it felt too good to be real. Going pro felt more worth it than ever and it felt like the toil and hardwork of the past 18 months had started to pay off. Being able to win my first ever senior international medal at a prestigious event like the US Open 2019 was more than I could have ever dreamt of.
You were the third Indian to breach into the top ten rankings at the ITTF junior rankings. How did you feel on scaling such a great height?
It was a very prodigious moment in my sporting career. I feel it was the beginning of so many things as it boosted my confidence levels completely and made me believe I had it in me to be a good Senior player and go on to represent India. I consider it a turning point in my life as it was then that I decided to go pro and give it all to the sport I love.
Do you think your exposure at the Junior circuits has helped you shape yourself better?
There is no doubt about it. Like everything else in life, I believe there is no overnight success it is a long journey travelled consistently with perseverance. The exposure to the best juniors in the world pushed me to get better every day. I learnt a lot from them and beating them gave me the confidence I needed to keep going and begin knocking on the doors of players at the senior circuit too.
Are there any idols you look up to and what is their role in your life?
Kamlesh (Mehta) sir (my coach, mentor, second father, and you can go on) has played a huge role in my life. From training me to advising me on technical aspects to helping me plan my calendar to just being an honest critique of my game, he has been a huge pillar of strength in my career. I would not have ben anywhere close to where I am today without his support.
Like every young Indian table tennis enthusiast my age, I too have grown up watching Sharath bhaiya (Achanta Sharath Kamal) smash record after record. Holding an incredible record at the International level, he has been the face of Indian table tennis for over 15 years now. It’s a dream for me play alongside him at events like the Australian Open, Oman Open, Qatar Open, etc as there is so much to learn from him on and off the table.
How has moving to the United States impacted your Table Tennis career?
It had an interesting impact on my career. I was not able to train much, as I was studying too but I was improving a lot nonetheless. I think the focus on my physical fitness as well as on the peculiar details within my game led me to that and this wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance of my training partners Kokou Fanny Dodji and Nishaad Shah. The US was also where I won the U23 Badger Open – a big international gold after a while since my junior days – as well as made the decision to go pro after helping NYU (New York University) win the 2018 NCTTA College National Championships for the first time ever. I won my first international senior medal at the US Open too. Thus, it will always hold a special part in my heart.
What is the first thing you do after a bad performance?
Talking what’s on my mind helps me a lot. Taking things off my mind through conversation, comes off quite easily to me and that is what I do when I’m upset. I just need someone to hear me out, be it Kamlesh sir or my parents or my bestfriend. I also like sing while to take a long hot shower (lol) and then watch a match where I played well.
How has being an athlete impacted personally?
It has given me a lot of discipline and time management skills. It has also helped expose me to various cultures around the world. But the one major thing I have majorly learned on being an athlete is to learn to accept defeats and failures. That has surely made me who I am today as I can now take rejections, losses in life and hardships with a different approach, knowing it is just one small obstacle and a part of my long journey of life.
What are the other things that interest you besides Table Tennis?
I love music – singing especially even though I am virtually banned to sing at home or around my friends because I am supposedly terrible haha. Besides that, I am a huge foodie (when I am allowed to cheat) and love watching crime, espionage and sports TV shows and movies. In my off season I also like playing any other sport to stay active.
How would you consider the Table Tennis scenario in India?
It is booming and how. The last few years been stupendous for us. Sharath Bhaiya, Sathiyan, Harmeet and Manika (just to name a few) have had some incredible results and won multiple gold at Commonwealth, 2 medals at the Asians and many more. The introduction of the Ultimate Table Tennis has played a huge role in this too. Personally, a home-grown league and big international performances will lead to more young kids taking up the sport as well as juniors turning pro, and that’s what’s happening. It will be very interesting to see how the next 5-10 years are for Indian table tennis, and I have no doubt they will be the best years we have ever had. The only way from here is up.