New Delhi: Benedikt Duda always had the pedigree. His father, Heinz Duda, played for TTC Schwalbe Bergneustadt and table tennis was the default sport in Duda household when Benedikt was growing up in Bergneustadt, a town in the south-western area of Germany. Not surprising then, that Benedikt took up the sport in right earnest at the age of 10. It was, in many ways, a natural progression for a child whose first-choice sports happened to be football and athletics.
"My brother and I were a fantastic doubles pair in our junior years, but my idols are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer," he told Firstpost.
Once smitten, Benedikt swiftly rose through the ranks to become one of the elite paddlers in his country and is now aiming to qualify for next year's Olympics. Benedikt is of the view that his maiden stint at the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) can put him firmly on the road to Tokyo.
"The Olympic Games are a special event. Only the best can qualify there and fight for a medal. I think UTT will be very helpful to prepare the players because we have to handle tremendous pressure (in UTT)," he said.
The 25-year-old will represent RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata in league's third edition that gets underway in New Delhi on Thursday (25 July). A total of six teams will be in the fray, and Benedikt feels the high-intensity event will test players' adaptability.
"I'm very excited to participate for the first time in UTT. So many high-level players are here and I have a chance to face each of them and take back massive gains from this experience. We only play three games and only to eleven points. So the players need to adapt and they will have to be ready to fight from the very beginning. If you play at the Olympic Games, it will be a similar pressure," he added.
While comparing UTT with the Olympics is slightly far-fetched, one can't deny the impressive line-up of paddlers the league has attracted. Benedikt's team is not short on star power, with Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra leading their charge. In Manush Shah, Prapti Sen, and Sanil Shetty, the Kolkata outfit has some reliable and supremely talented youngsters, while Sweden's 37-year-old veteran Matilda Ekholm provides the experience.
Benedikt too has tasted significant international success since becoming the German Junior Team Champion back in 2007. Five years later, he became German Junior Champion in doubles with Florian Schreiner and reached the final in singles.
The same year, he won silver in the European Youth Championship in the team competition and reached the singles and doubles quarter-finals at the Youth World Cup. His most recent achievement is reaching the singles quarter-finals at last year's European Championships.
While a major trophy has eluded him of late, Benedikt is confident that he will end the drought soon enough. He is not willing to share his strategy yet, but is bullish enough to declare, "I'm not coming just to be second, I'm coming for the trophy."
"I normally don't share my goals. I keep it private, and after the competition, I answer these questions about plans and strategies. I will analyse every player to be prepared to beat them. If you can adapt to every situation in your sport, who can stop you to become one of the greatest?" he concluded.
Kolkata will open their campaign against Goa Challengers on Saturday (27 July).