In every sport, there are talented players and then there are those that can get you off your seat with their sheer prodigious skill, passion, hard work and will to win. Diya Chitale is one of those players that you cannot help but root for. Her aggressive style of play, executing strokes with perfection and precision are all the signs that there is a world class table tennis player in the making who will continue making headlines for years to come.
In an exclusive interview with SPOGO, 18 year old Diya Chitale speaks about falling in love with table tennis at an early age, strengths and weaknesses, mental conditioning, coaches, learning from experiences, balancing studies, proudest achievements and ultimate goals.
Q 1) When did you first play table tennis and what made you fall in love with the sport?
I’ve always been into sports, ever since I was very young. We used to go on trips and there was always a T.T table where I used to play. I was introduced to the sport at Khar Gymkhana and it started off as a hobby. I won a bronze medal in the first table tennis tournament I participated in which was at the district level. This motivated me to play more and I won my first national championship medal (silver) at the Under 12 category. After that there was no looking back and that’s where my hobby became a passion.
Q 2) What do you consider as your strengths and weaknesses to your game? How do you work on them?
I would say that my strength is the forehand as well as my fitness. I believe that whether you have strengths or weaknesses, it’s important to continuously keep working on it. Just because a certain aspect of the game is a ‘strength’ does not mean it doesn’t have to be worked on. Nobody is perfect and it’s very important to keep improving ourselves everyday.
Q 3) Apart from the physical exercises, what are the various mental conditioning sessions that you practice to keep your temperament and focus under control?
There are many aspects of the game, it’s not just about strokes and technique even though that’s very important. Along with physical fitness, it’s very important to be strong mentally. I have a trainer Dr. Mugdha Bavare who guides me with various techniques to remain focused during the matches, building my confidence when I’m in a low phase or when things are going well, she helps me maintain that phase. Visualization is very important along with self talk before, during and after matches as well as during practice so that it can be implemented during the game. Confidence, self belief and motivating yourself is very important.
Q 4) How much have you learnt from your coach Mr. Peter Engel? What is the difference in playing league matches in Germany compared to India?
Peter is a very experienced coach who was also a former player. I have learnt a lot from him and it has drastically made an impact on my game. All the finer aspects, minute details, different strategies and the way he explains things is amazing and very helpful. It’s not only Peter but Sachin Shetty, my Indian coach travels with me to Germany so that whatever I’m doing there can be continued in India with no interruptions. He has been travelling with me since I was very young. Another name I would like to mention is Mr. Sandeep Gupta who has also helped me a lot. There are many people who have been involved. In India, we don’t have league matches like in Europe where there are games played every weekend. That gives a lot of experience, exposure, match practice and the quality of players participating in the league matches is very high. I have played against ex Olympians, European champions and facing them gives a lot of experience and confidence.
Q 5) How has your experience trained you to strategize games and play with controlled aggression?
There have been many occasions where I’ve lost a match from a winning situation and vice-versa. These experiences and situations have helped me learn about myself and what I can do from a leading position or how to fight back. Learning from these experiences helps me handle myself better in future situations.
Q 6) How do you balance studies with table tennis? What are the various challenges that you have had to overcome?
It’s very hard to balance studies and table tennis. Everyone in my family comes from a very strong educational background but they have never put that pressure on me to choose one between studies and table tennis. They have always given me the freedom to do what I like and I was lucky enough to make the decision to pursue sports. Till my 10th standard, I was studying in Arya Vidya Mandir and the school supported me in my tennis career which was very helpful. They would reschedule exams for me if I was participating in a tournament. After that, I opted for open schooling for the 11th and 12th because it was not possible for me to attend college everyday and I needed longer hours to practice to focus on table tennis.
Q 7) Which is your proudest achievement to date? What is your ultimate goal for the future and how do you plan to achieve it?
There is no single proudest moment but winning the National Championship Singles Title double crown in the Under 18 and Under 21 category after playing from the qualification round as I was not ranked is very special. I also defeated Odo Satsuki of Japan who was ranked 3rd in the world at that time in the Under 15 girls category, Madhurika Patkar, a Commonwealth Games Gold medal winner as well as being selected for the Asia team for the World Cadet Challenge. Recently I won the Under 21 National Championship for the second time in a row so all these achievements are very special for me. My ultimate goal is to win a medal for India at the Olympics and that can only be achieved with small steps. Improving my Indian ranking in the women’s level and my ranking in the seniors category at the world level as well as playing more international senior tournaments are small steps that will eventually lead me to my goal. The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) have been very supportive in sending us for more tournaments, Sports Authority of India, Khelo India have also motivated us to work hard. I’ve been lucky to be supported by Olympic Gold Quest and Indian Oil and support from such agencies gives us the confidence to achieve our goals.