Daniel Windahl on his depression: ”I was half a metre away from not being able to sit here today”
Daniel Windahl's career is on the rise, and the 64th-ranked WPT player is living his dream as a professional padel player. But there was a time when things looked different.
In an interview with Padel Alto, he speaks about his career and the threats and depression that led to thoughts of suicide.
— I was half a meter away from not being able to sit here today, says Sweden's best padel player.
On Wednesday, the news was released that Daniel Windahl is continuing his venture with Head as a major sponsor. The good season that passed has made the padel world take notice of the Swede, who sums up the season as 64th in the WPT rankings.
— It's like a dream. My goal was to be in the top 80, which was a high goal. I said, "I can't put top 60. What do I do?". I haven't quite figured it out yet, but it's damn nice that all the hard work and early mornings are producing a result like this. Now I want to increase, he says to Padel Alto.
During the past season, he has managed to have three different partners. First Rama Peryera, then Cristian Gutierrez and now José Solano.
Windahl sticks to one of the players' names. Sanyo Gutierrez's nephew, Cristian Gutierrez. It was with him that he broke through this year, including becoming the first Swede to make it through the qualifying rounds and into the Main Round of the World Padel Tour.
— He taught me much about padel, and I started thinking completely differently with him.
But although the idea was to play together all season long, they broke up in the middle of the season.
— It was just too much. I was taking in too much information at once. Both from my coach and Cristian, so I felt I couldn't assist with the quality he needed at the end. Then I was honest and told him I needed someone else by my side because I needed a reset. It was absolutely nothing against him.
Not called "the Swede" anymore
His successful play on the court has also helped him grow into a broader context, even off the court on the circuit, where it is almost exclusively Spaniards and Argentinians.
— You play the bigger matches and rise in the rankings. That's the biggest difference since being new on the WPT. That you are no longer 'the Swede', but that you have a name now, he says and laughs.
He has also won against the legend and former world number one Juan Martin Diaz.
— I have the level of play to challenge them. The consistency is hard, with no dips and playing in all conditions. They are so good at adapting and playing just as well on a sunny outdoor court at 45 degrees as on a slow indoor court at 12 degrees. That's where I need to get better.
How will you get there?
— In my head, I possess the physics, but I have to believe it when you're in a tight position against the top players: they know one hundred percent what to do. The more I expose myself to that situation in games and training, the better I will handle them. Last year I played ten games of that caliber. I know how it felt the first time, I know how it felt the second time, and I know how it felt the last time. It's like night and day.
"15-20 players on the circuit are suffering from serious injuries."
Being a professional padel player is not just about the game on the court. 2022 has also been the year where the game itself on the court has taken a back seat to what has been happening off it between the established World Padel Tour and the new Premier Padel supported by the International Federation (FIP).
— I don't have a contract with WPT and belong to the Players' Association (PPA). I would like to see a merger or a straighter line for each player. We don't have to be pulled between contracts, threats, or strong positions. I would need a plan, no matter what it will be, so it will be easier to schedule a whole year. I have no idea what it will be now. I'm just waiting to see what happens.
Because WPT and Premier Padel went in parallel this season, the players must participate in all tournaments because of the contracts with the World Padel Tour.
2022 is the season with the most tournaments in one year by far.
— I won't name players, but many of the top players are injured, and if you take the top 50 players, 15-20 suffer serious injuries. That is the result of what happens when there is a conflict that we players do not have control over. It's a damn shame, and it can be career-altering.
”In the beginning, the PPA was unstable.”
Given this conflict, the men's players have formed the PPA, the Professional Padel Association. A union that will protect the common interests of the players. With Alejandro Galan as president, the PPA has taken a clear stand in the conflict, siding with Premier Padel and FIP against the World Padel Tour.
— In the beginning, the PPA was a bit unstable, and many people didn't know how it would work. Now it is growing tighter. Even I'm starting to have a handle on almost everything. Even though a lot of it is in Spanish, I get it translated into English and feel involved. The players are important in this, without saying that so-and-so is wrong. You have to make pursuing a career and a commitment to the sport easier.
The tight playing schedule surrounding the 2022 padel year has been a big talking point around the sport. Even among the players themselves, it has been turbulent.
— Many don't want the everyday life they had last year. Playing one tournament in Asia and the next in Europe and South America. It's too much travel and too much money. Each trip takes its toll, and few people have the space to pursue such a venture. My budget went over a million last year, so you can see what a budget any qualifier must have.
"There were dark thoughts of suicide."
With arrows rising in the rankings, the star is set to expand his base, combining his time between his home base in Sweden with plenty of time and accommodation in Malaga, Spain.
— My idea is to give it a go, move to Spain, have a bigger part of the time down there with a training base, and learn the language even more.
Living his dream as a padel professional, there have been periods in Daniel Windahl's life that have been much tougher on a personal level. As a teenager, he was a promising tennis player on the ATP tour.
But it all came to an abrupt end.
— When you're 16-17, instead of the sport providing the fun and the development...my everyday life became threatening messages and getting offers to lose in matches. On top of that, I found myself in a deep, deep depression that I have only now admitted. There were dark suicidal thoughts, and I was a half meter away from not being able to sit here today.
— Sometimes, elite sport is more of a disease than an asset. If you can't take it the right way, you need to be open to getting mental help.
What's it like to talk about it?
— I guess that's what I've been feeling lately, a strength to talking about it. I've always been open about this with offers of losing matches and threats, which is important. But there was also a lot of mental illness during that period.
Calls for regulations
With the game's rise in popularity, he also sees a risk of betting in padel becoming a problem.
— Of course, the betting industry will follow. I hope it can be regulated to a certain number of rounds. It's in the qualifying rounds that morale is at stake. If you win a match, you get 500 euros, but if you lose as favorites, you get 3000 euros. In my world, the choice is easy, but I don't lump all players together regarding survival. I understand that there is a moral issue, he says.
Have you spoken with the World Padel Tour or Premier Padel about it?
— I've been open with the WPT and Premier Padel that they regulate certain rounds. I would have liked them to address the issue. The first step is to create an organization that only deals with issues like this. That's how I see it. Right now, betting in padel is small, but they are already building a system for what could happen. It's a big risk in padel, as in many other sports.
Have you seen anything suspicious in padel?
— No, neither heard nor seen. It has never crossed my mind in padel. You see it completely differently in tennis because it's set up in a system. In padel, I've never heard of players being contacted at all.
"The goal is to become one of the best in the world."
The next season remains uncertain for the players. Most top players have one year left on their World Padel Tour contracts. The first competition will be held in a month at the time of writing, but no venue or exact date has yet been communicated.
But that's not something Windahl is focused on. Instead, he's banking on a season at least as successful as last.
— All my time off, I've been thinking about where this will end up. Do I continue at this pace with my ambition and confidence. It's the setbacks that build me up. If I can continue taking them the right way, I see no reason I shouldn't become one of the world's padel players. I don't know what number, but my goal has shifted to becoming one of the best, and it's landing more and more in me. It's achievable.