Hailing from a family of businessmen and entrepreneurs, Mudit Dani chose a different path for himself and is already making rapid strides while marking his presence in the table tennis world for India. Mudit won his first table tennis medal at a Mumbai ranking event when he was just 10, and then took up the sport professionally. In 2019, he clinched first senior ITTF medal for the country at the 2019 US Open championships. The Mumbai based TT star is among the sixth-highest ranked paddlers in the world rankings of senior men’s singles. Mudit has the distinction of also being the only third Indian player after Soumyajit Ghosh and Harmeet Desai to break into the Top-10 of the ITTF World Junior Boys’ rankings.
Mudit, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree from the United States, shifted his base to Germany in 2018 in order to find more time to train and practice. He also plays for a French Club and stays a sizable time to play and practice, before the world was hit by COVID. Since the lockdown last year, he has been training at home in Mumbai. In a conversation with Higher Education Digest, Mudit talks about his journey as a table tennis player, how did he get admission at New York University, and much more.
What motivated you to become a table tennis player?
I remember, I started playing Table Tennis at the young age of seven. While growing up, I used to enjoy playing it with my cousins and friends and even started seeking coaching. At the time I was into swimming too, but I felt table tennis has to offer a lot more. In terms of the speed of the game, the different tactics that one can use and the different types of spins done made me more interested towards this sport.
With time and by following routine training sessions, I kept getting better. At the age of 12, I got the opportunity to play for the state of Maharashtra and I eventually got through at the Nationals. It was during this time I was able to comprehend that Table Tennis brings the best version of me and motivated me to pursue further.
It surely wasn’t an easy path, as I was determined not to compromise on my schooling and higher education, which I feel is important to build a wholesome personality. During my 11th and 12th, I was preparing for my IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) which is a rigorous pre-university programme, and it seemed like a challenge to balance both. But it was also during this time when I gave some of my best performances in the juniors and successfully broke in top 10 of the World Table Tennis ranking which gave me the confidence that I could function well with both.
These achievements keep giving me the motivation to continue my journey in the sports of Table Tennis and outperform while continuing my studies.
How did break into the Top-200 at the age of 21? Where did you start, and how has been preparations?
It was a steady growth I would say. In July 2018, I first made my debut in the professional circuit at the Nigeria Open where I played alongside Canada’s Marko Medjugorac and won bronze. That year I was ranked among the 750 in the world. I secured my first International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) senior medal after rolling into the men’s doubles semi-finals of the US Open Championships at the Fort Worth Convention Centre in Texas. By March 2019, I was among the top 400 and within a year, that is in 2020, I was ranked among the top 200 players becoming the sixth-highest ranked Indian which was a great honour for me.
It was a completely new path I would say, when a player moves from juniors’ level to the senior circuit as it is not an easy leap. Now more focus was required on minor details, more smart planning was done on the strategies as all the players are tactically more aware and smarter and not to forget more experienced. I also focused more on my physical fitness to bring a great competition on table for my opponent who is much senior to me. It is a complete gamechanger as compared to the juniors as earlier at some levels it is semi-professional whereas, and lot of preparations are required at seniors.
How can sports help in getting through the universities abroad? How did you manage to get yourself enrolled in New York University?
American Universities value talents and do not necessarily have to be only in the academic’s front.
It is surely an important criterion to be fulfilled but they look for something more, something that adds value, it could be literature, art and Sports, which is actually a big deal in American Universities. They strongly believe that a talented student adds value to the culture of the University and sports is one among them. Excellency in sports is one among many which they look for in their potential student’s credentials as they then get to be part of their internal/ inhouse sports team building a stronger foundation. Most universities in US offer sports scholarship to students. I had applied for three universities selecting based on their sports programme and I decided to join New York University as it gives the advantage to be part of their rich legacy and they have their own table Tennis team which includes well-trained players with whom I can practice. During my course, I had represented New York University and won the 2018 iSET College National Table Tennis Championships which was held in Texas and it widely celebrated. Educational institutions like NYU even extend their support as they have given me the option to do majority of my courses online to get the degree.
How do you juggle between academics and sports? Tell us about your campus life.
There are challenges, but if we are determined to achieve our end goal then these hurdles can be diminished. As a kid it was surely easier, but with time and age, it becomes important to give undivided attention to both academics and sports as they both are equally important and I aim to excel in both. I try and squeeze in my classes by lunch time and then my rest of the day is spent on workouts or practicing. Planning ahead and time management works the best for me. I have set my priorities and plan systematically. It could be overwhelming at times but some extra efforts are needed if one wants to attain their goal. Luckily, I am still able to take out some time to have fun which is also important in our growth. During the pre-covid times, the campus was highly energetic, I remember visiting campus and enjoying the training sessions of other sports like basketball or football which are quite popular over there.
What are the ways to self-motivate in the pandemic situation? How did you manage to train and keep the fitness level?
It has been really hard on everyone and harder for athletes I feel. Time is important for athletes and with no tournaments, no events, no championships being conducted, all the efforts were put on hold. But it is something we can’t control, so my focus shifted on what I can control and do the best for myself. I ensured to maintain a proper sleeping routine, continue eat healthy and work-out is an absolute must. In the evening I give time to mental games and keep trying new workouts to keep it interesting and fun practicing.
Due to the situation, I was unable to continue my training sessions but I was keeping a check on my fitness. I have been working on three cores aspects which includes my strengths, agility and injury prevention and rehab. I would work on my strengths and agility aspect in the morning as they are heavier sessions and, in the evening, I would work on injury prevention and rehab.
What is your vision for future post-graduation?
I am planning on getting a Master’s Degree in Quantitative Management, for which I have already applied at STERN Business School, which comes under New York University. The classes will begin from September this year and I am really looking forward to it.
These sessions will be conducted online, which is great, as it will allow me the benefit to travel and continue my training sessions anywhere in the world as per my preference and attend International tournaments also. I have plans to continue my training in Europe and currently I also have couple of Leagues offer and training offers on which I am still deciding where to join. Though these would be possible once we can contain the global outbreak.
What is your advice to the young generation who wish to take up sports as a career option?
I feel one should never be afraid to dream big but at the same time one needs to be honest with themselves. We need to critically assess ourselves and analyse our shortcomings and judge if we are taking the right steps to achieve those dreams. Big dreams take their sweet time to turn into reality, demands a lot of hard work and patience. Do not be in a rush and keep working on yourself without giving up. Break down your dreams into smaller milestones which is a great way to feel motivated. For any athlete time is very precious so make sure you are training your body and mind and keep pushing yourself.
More About Mudit Dani
While the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020 and struck everything including the sporting world and sports came to a standstill. While players and youngsters were struggling with mental health issues, Mudit explored unique ways to engage with fellow aspiring paddlers and his followers and kept them motivated. In the process he introduced an Instagram live interview series called “In The Sportlight” which featured eminent personalities from Indian sporting world including batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, Tennis great Leander Paes, actor Rahul Bose and India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, along with many others and the show would talk about how these Champions have faced challenges in their lives and ways to overcome it.