Indian Squash Academy Junior Open 2015 - A melting pot of India's present, past and future squash talents
The finish to a good book is one of the most important components ever for it holds the power to either complete or destroy all the good work done by the preceding chapters. As the narrative reaches a climax, and the reader flips through the pages to see how exactly the ending is going to unfold, there is a moment where he/she hopes that the ending isn’t a let-down.
That feeling goes for sport too where you like a good tournament to finish off great. This past Thursday, the young warriors who took their place inside Centre Court at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai on finals day at the ISA Junior Open 2015, ensured that the quality of the finish didn’t flail.
10 names, five girls and five boys – Yuvna Gupta and Paarth Ambani (Under-11); Ananya Dabke and Neel Joshi (Under-13); Samita Sivakumar and Tushar Shahani (Under-15); Akanksha Salunkhe and Adhitya Raghavan (Under-17); Adya Advani and Velavan Senthilkumar (Under-19) – had their names lit up under the lights as they emerged champions in their respective categories.
For two of the top seeds in the final – Yuvna and Akanksha – it was straight set wins over the number two seeds. Tushar was stretched by Rahul Baitha to four sets in a match that had good stroke play.
Four top seeds fell in the final. Second-seeded Adya Advani toppled top seed Harshit Kaur, who she hadn’t beaten before in the Girls U-19 while Neel Joshi did likewise against Navaneeth Prabhu in the Boys U-13 in an absolute thriller. Perhaps the match of the day, the action in the fourth and fifth sets drew ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd.
Velavan Senthilkumar, a U-17 player playing U-19, toppled top seed Yohan Darius Pandole in four sets who had no answer to the southpaw’s impressive shot-making. ‘Vela’, as he’s known here, is the top Indian junior and will be leading the contingent at the Asian juniors in Tehran, Iran. Look out for this boy for he has some serious talent.
Samita Sivakumar upset top seed Diya Joukani in their U-15 final to win in four sets; this after beating the second seed Navmi Sharma in the semis. From the Indian Squash Academy, and backed by her coach, Bala, the local girl had an excellent week all round.
Adhitya Raghavan’s (No. 1 seed in U-17) match against fellow ISA-trainee and [3/4] seed Abhay Singh was a match filled with fraught tempers as there was much animosity between the two on-court in what was a scrappy game filled with constant debates with the officials. Adhitya emerged winner in five in the end, one that saw Abhay walk off the court refusing to shake the hand of his opponent.
Saving the best for last is customary isn’t it and that’s where Paarth Ambani comes in. The top seed in his category had a humdinger of a match against Vivaan Shah as he forced his way out of a two-sets-to-love-down hole to emerge victorious. In the aftermath of the match, Vivaan was devastated at having let his lead slip and completely broke down.
And in what was THE SPORTING MOMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT, Paarth walked over to him, put his arm around his beaten opponent and helped him off the court, not for a second stopping to celebrate his own victory.
It was a poignant moment that vindicated everything about this tournament, about playing hard, yet playing it in the right spirit. And when Paarth realised that his opponent was still down on himself some 20 minutes after the match, he once again walked over to him and led him out of the building for a recovery drink. Top notch!
Another ISA product who did well was Girls U-15 player Darshana Vasudevan, a [9/16] seed, who made a memorable run into the semis taking out two higher seeds on the way. Her run was stopped by top seed Diya.
Senior players stop by
The tournament was peppered with visits from India’s senior players who dropped by to watch and cheer on the junior talent at hand. Anaka Alankamony, Arjuna Award winner and ISA star, was ever-present through the last two days, in conversation with Foreign Coach Major Maniam and some of the juniors.
Senior national champion, Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu, was around for the first few days of the tournament, training and sparring with some of the players, before leaving to Hong Kong to play in the HKFC International.
Aparajitha Balamurukan also stopped by to oversee her sister, Neeharika, playing her match. And India’s top woman player, Dipika Pallikal, also made an appearance to support her niece Sunayna Kuruvilla, the 2nd seed in the Girls U-17 category. Sunayna made the final but lost out to top seed Akanksha.
Kush Kumar, India’s top-rated U-19 player, returned for the last day after having been away in the United States as part of a training program.
Former players Mekhala Subedar and Lalit Verma were also spotted at the event.
The parents and coaches
At this level, the players constantly need a companion and unceasing encouragement. It was indeed a treat to watch the parents of these players accompany them day-in-day-out into the stadium. And this was just a snapshot for that’s what they do through the year. The coaches were also fully involved with their charges, shouting out words of encouragement during the matches and offering useful advice in between sets.
Each of these juniors never failed to acknowledge the role of their parents and coaches in their victories and every time we spoke to them, they had great stories to tell about how they got into the game of squash and the things they looked out for.
Keeping close tabs on the matches through the five days of the tournament were National Coach Cyrus Poncha and Foreign Coach Major S. Maniam. They offered great stories on some of these players and their styles and were always around to offer advice to these youngsters. Major Maniam in particular was seen having a talk with a lot of the finalists after their respective finals, highlighting what they did well and what not so well, providing them a good appraisal of their game.
The squash must go on
Following on the heels of the selection trials for the Asian and World junior championships, the ISA Junior Open 2015 provided a good exhibition of the country’s talent at the junior level. And since a lot of these players were involved in those trials, they never looked rusty and showcased their best games.
Onwards now, the two upcoming tournaments to look out for are the senior nationals in Trivandrum in July and the Asian juniors in Tehran, Iran. As Harinder, Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa dulled it out in Hong Kong, we got a glimpse of their likely future successors in the years to come here at the ISA Junior Open.
Rest assured, these talents, shaped well, can mix it up with the best in the world in coming years.