The Punch

My dream is to become Olympic gold medalist – 11-year-old world no.1 Mustapha

In April, the ITTF announced Musa Mustapha as the no.1 ranked table tennis player in the world in the U-11 boys category. In this interview, he tells ’TOSIN OLUWALOWO about his journey so far, why he chose table tennis ahead of other sports, his dreams an

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When did you start playing table tennis? I started playing table tennis in 2017. I started playing outside on the streets with stick and a make-shift table with my friends and then one day I followed my father to the table tennis hall and from there I started playing and started training.

Why did you choose table tennis ahead of other sports?

I like table tennis because it’s a game that is so easy to play. I also like the fact that I’m the only one playing it, unlike the contact sports like football where you have people around you who struggle with you and you contact each other.

What was the first local and internatio­nal tournament you attended?

The first time tournament I took part in was the Mini-cadet Table Tennis Championsh­ips in Lagos in 2018. Being my first tournament, I knew I could not win, but I just wanted to play and see what it means like to be in a competitio­n. My first internatio­nal tournament was also the 2018 ITTF Nigeria Open in Lagos. I played with different good players and had some experience playing against my mates.

How was countries? it like playing against kids from other

It was different playing against boys from other countries because of their technique. They were playing with styles I had never seen before. I played my best, never gave up and fought for all the points in the game because I knew they were boys like me.

When was the first time you played table tennis outside nigeria?

My first time outside Nigeria 2019 ITTF Junior Ghana. I was very travelling out of the for the first time. I was also happier because we won the tournament. At first, my body was shaking because I knew there were some good players in the tournament, but later, I started fighting and I started to gain more confidence.

What has been the support like from your parents towards your table tennis career?

They have been very supportive right from when my brother and I started playing table tennis, and have been sponsoring us for all the tournament­s we have attended. They have also been taking us to trainings and providing all the needed kits for us.

You are ranked no.1 in the world in U-11 boys, also 19th in U-13 boys and 98th in the U-15 boys. how does it feel being the best in the world?

I feel happy being the No.1 in the world, but I also know that it requires I train more to maintain my form and go into tournament­s in my best shape.

how did you celebrate being the no.1 player in the world?

I was just happy receiving the news, I didn’t do anything special.

Is there any additional pressure when you go for competitio­ns being the No. 1 player in the world?

Yes. I know most of my mates want to beat me. To overcome this pressure I keep training, I don’t get scared and always know that I can still be better than what I am at the moment.

What’s been your toughest table tennis match?

I have played a lot of matches, but I take each one as they come. I can’t remember anyone I can say was my toughest match.

Your brother also plays table tennis, have you ever played against him in any competitio­n?

No, we have never been paired to play against each other in the competitio­ns we have attended.

If you are paired against each other in a competitio­n, how will you feel?

I will play my best and he will also play his best, anyone that wins is the winner. Either I win or he wins, I will feel normal, because I know I’m not targeting him, but to be my best in the game.

What would you consider as your major strengths on the table?

My major table tennis strength is blocking and chop block. Which table tennis icon do you look up to?

The player I love and want to be like in future is Japanese player Niwa Koki. I like the way he blocks and he also does chop block. I also like Harimoto Tomokazu.

In Nigeria, which table tennis players do you admire and look up to?

I like Quadri Aruna, he is the best player in Nigeria and I like the way he plays. I have met him before too, but I couldn’t talk with him much then because that time I wasn’t a champion yet.

What are the challenges you have faced playing table tennis in nigeria?

Outside Nigeria, most of their players have one coach attached to each player, but here, 25 players can have one coach. Sometimes a state can even have one coach or two coaches. Also, the way Nigerians normally play table tennis, they don’t use backhand, but outside the country, they use their backhand well. In Nigeria, instead of playing backhand, players turn their body.

What are your plans and aspiration­s for the future?

I want to become the world No. 1 in U-13, U-15 up to the men’s singles. I also want to win the Olympics gold medal.

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