Joshana Chinappa: The shining beacon of Indian squash
With poise and panache, Joshana Chinappa cruised to her 10th professional title last Sunday at the Victorian Open, dropping just one game en route to the crown. It was a much-cherished occasion for the 28-year-old whose last triumph had come 16 months back at the Richmond Open.
Joshana is once again showing glimpses of the champion that she is known to be. If anything, the title drought has only made her hungrier than before. The resolve and the conviction are once again shining forth for the girl who burst into the spotlight after becoming the first Indian to claim a British Junior Open title in 2003.
The Chennai girl had been into sports right since her childhood. She was equally adept at the other racquet sports – badminton and tennis. But squash was in her blood with her being the fifth generation of squash proponents in her family. Watching her father, Anjan Chinappa sharpen his skills at the Madras Cricket Club, imbued her with a desire to pursue a career in the sport.
The stellar junior career
And soon, medals came in heaps for the immensely talented Chinappa. Right from her budding years, a champion’s fighting spirit was ingrained within her. At the tender age of 10, she made the final of the Under-14 Junior Nationals. At 11, she had her first taste of international glory – the Under-13 Singapore Junior Open.
“I always remember playing an age group higher than mine. It’s more fruitful if you win that way,” Joshana says.
The stellar junior career saw her annexing the Asian Junior crown and having a runner-up showing at the World Juniors.
Excellence at the Nationals
At home too, Joshana began excelling at the domestic circuit in a fashion that was unprecedented. In 2000, at the age of 14, she surged to her first National title and over the years, she added 13 more to that first triumph.
Her dedication and commitment towards playing the Nationals have been second to none. Now, she is just two short of Bhuvneshwari Kumari’s record of 16 titles. Yet, it is the sweet taste of victory at 14 years is what the Chennai squash ace relishes the most..
“I wanted to win the women’s nationals really badly at that age, so I was really, really happy.”
That 2000 win was more momentous because it not only made her the youngest National champion, but also enabled her to hold both the senior and junior titles at the same time!
But it was actually her 2003 British Open triumph that put the flashlights permanently on her. Along came the recognition, the expectations and the sponsors. The Mittal Champions Trust signed her up as their first beneficiary.
Comparison with another rising Indian star, Sania Mirza became inevitable and Joshana was looked upon as the new hope who can give a facelift to the sport of squash in the country. Blessed with a good physique, the 5’8’’ lissom athlete had the right aggression and the strokes needed to break into the world’s elite. And Joshana herself looked forward to making a place within the top 20 soon.
First title at the PSA/WSA level
The transition to the highly-competitive senior level wasn’t always smooth, but the stubborn girl refused to put her foot down. And she got to lay her hands on her first ever trophy at the PSA/WSA level at the NSC Super Satellite No. 3 in 2008. The woman of many firsts added one more first to her name – Joshana became the first Indian woman squash player to capture a professional title. She added another title in a week.
In her relentless pursuit for the higher echelons of the sport, Chinappa opted for the guidance of the renowned coach, Malcolm Willstrop in London along with the support of the Indian Squash Academy back home.
Injury and hard times
Just when everything was falling into place, disaster struck. Her momentum was stalled by a knee injury that she suffered while playing at the Hamptons Open in August, 2011. The injury was confirmed as a ligament tear for which she had to undergo surgery and was rendered out of action for nearly nine months. As a consequence, her ranking dropped to 71.
But resilience is Joshana’s second name. The hiatus helped her to introspect and gave her a new perspective. After a rehab in Mumbai with the help of physio Ahmed Yousuf and former India No. 1 Ritwik Bhattacharya, the refreshed and rejuvenated Joshana returned with a new purpose.
The purpose was to enjoy the game more. The injury also taught her to focus on her fitness. Chinappa thus embarked on a new journey with a fresh lease of life. And her second coming was awe-inspiring.
The awe-inspiring comeback
With two titles in 2012 which included the much-treasured Chennai Open title, Joshana won all her next five professional level finals. Her ranking soared and she finally found her place inside the world’s top 20 – peaking at 19 in 2014.
But it was her 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning partnership with teammate Dipika Pallikal that sent the nation into raptures. The euphoria brought squash into the forefront again and the girls doubled the glory with team silver medal at the Asian Games.
Joshana Chinappa has been the pioneer for Indian squash. Today, this Arjuna Awardee is the idol for many girls wanting to showcase their supremacy within the four walls of a squash court.
What stands out for Chinappa are her innate competitiveness and an unbridled passion for the sport right from a very young age. That passion has aided her to keep on educating and re-inventing herself more and more as she progressed.
“I am still learning. Even the World No. 1 keeps learning. Each tournament is an education.”
Joshana has miles to go and more to learn and the journey is far from over.