Diya Chitale, a teenager from western Mumbai, has been dominating the domestic table tennis circuit for almost a decade. But more than her exploits on the table, it was her controversial exclusion before being included in India’s squad for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham that brought her into the national limelight.
With the controversy around the team selection having died down, 19-year-old Diya is ready for her maiden multi-discipline global sojourn.
“The entire team is bonding pretty well together. Only Manika di (Batra) has played in the Commonwealth Games earlier. Reeth di (Rishya), me and Sreeja (Akula) are playing for the first time. It’s going to be a new experience for all of us,” Diya said on the sidelines of a felicitation function organised by Khar Gymkhana, her alma mater.
Diya was felicitated by legendary paddler Kamlesh Mehta in the presence of former India hockey captain Viren Rasquinha and the Gymkhana president Vivek Devnani.
After being left out of the provisional squad, it took a writ petition in the Bombay High Court to be filed before the Delhi High Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, appointed to run the Table Tennis Federation of India, decided to include Diya in the women’s squad.
Diya, who had “set an initial target of 2022 Commonwealth Games ever since I started playing professionally”, admitted it wasn’t easy to focus on her training in Germany when the provisional squad was announced.
“When the team was announced first, I was really disappointed. There was a bit of doubt whether whatever I did was worth it. But then my entire support structure – my parents, my coaches led by Sachin sir – told me I had to keep pushing myself and focus on the game. If not this time, then definitely next time. I am glad it’s paid off this time,” he said.
Diya admits her parents – Parag and Reshma – were instrumental, along with her coach Sachin Shetty, in her not drifting from the training programme in Germany. Having set the controversy aside, Diya has already set her targets on and off the table in Birmingham.
“I hope to go there and not only look at the top table tennis players but also other disciplines. PV Sindhu has been my idol, and I hope to meet her, get a chance to talk to her, and see the way the top players handle themselves. It’s definitely going to be a very big learning experience for me, and it’ll help in the future,” she said.
Being the fourth member of the squad, she is set to be involved in the team championship and in women’s doubles along with Manika. While Manika didn’t attend last week’s preparatory camp in Porto, Diya is looking forward to teaming up with the defending singles champion.
“Never practised with Manika before. But she has been playing amazingly well in the last few years. I am definitely looking forward to pairing with her and learning from her,” she said.