Rising up to rank 13 in the world, which is not only her best ever, but also made her the highest ranked Indian in the professional squash circuit and then beating the world number one Raneem El Weliliy in the Qatar Classic. These are the two credits which Joshna Chinappa is carrying with her into 2016 with a sense of pride and inspiration as she believes in continuing her pursuit of excellence relentlessly.
’13’is a number that Joshna abhors because she sticks to the universal belief that it signifies ill luck ! A touch superstitious notwithstanding, the champion player had hardly courted ill-luck. Rather she does not discount her good performance that brought her to this level though she quickly adds “I prefer to view the ranking as a mere number. I am enjoying my play and I feel I still have enough to give to this sport in the next three to four years.”
On four previous occasions, Raneem had beaten Joshna fair and square but this was a special moment that the Indian had seized in Doha. Something, which instantly elevated her to the status of a star player. “I played my natural game, matched her all round. Usually she is a type who would make you look like playing in a bigger than normal court because that is the way she sends the returns around. But I found a touch of nervousness in her this time and that helped me,” the national champion recalled of that great match in the Qatar Classic.
With a title win earlier in Australia (Victoria open), her 10th in the career and a bronze medal win in the Asian individuals in Kuwait it was an eventful year for Joshna and for this she gives a big credit to her itinerary planning. “I allowed myself a good break in the mid-year when I took it easy and allowed myself rest and good practice sessions (mostly at the Indian squash academy in Chennai) and that I believe sustained my form and steadiness,” believed Joshna and this will be her look out for 2016 as well.
Though in her mind she has a dream of coming into the top-10 dream, Joshna does not want to make it an aim as such. “I reckon I have another three to four years of good squash before me. Let me keep enjoying with the same passion for the sport,” she said of the seasons ahead. For the other two leading players from the country _ Saurav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal _ it was more or less routine. Dipika did win her 10th career title at the start of the year in Canada (Winnipeg Winter club Open) and then a quarter-final finish at the Kuwait Asian championship, something Saurav too achieved.
A few runner-up spots in the PSA tour formed the highlight of Saurav’s show. While for the rest like former national champion Harinder Pal Sandhu and Mahesh Mangaonkar, the next rung players it was at best a passable year. There is promise however around Kush Kumar who finished his outstanding junior career with a bronze at the British Junior Open. What is more he already has a PSA title under his belt even as he gets going in the serious world of professional squash.
But the juniors caught the eye. Among them the rising stature of Tamil Nadu’s Velavan Senthilkumar was inspiring. He and Harshit Kaur Jawanda had represented the country at the Commonwealth Youth Games in distant Samoa and returned with an individual bronze and a mixed doubles silver to keep the India flag flying high. Later the junior national title added glitter to his stature He is a player for the future if he keeps this focus going. Then there were Navaneeth Prabhu, Abhay Singh, Navmi Sharma , Akanksha and Tushar Shahani all popping up here and there to demand attention. Abhay and Tushar had also won a title each in Singapore and Netherlands.
As Major S. Maniam, the Consultant coach of the SRFI and the brain behind the development programme in the Indian Squash Academy put it, with particular reference to Joshna, “consistency is the need and continuing hard work.” This should apply for all others aspiring to make a mark for themselves and for the country. As shown in the recent past the Indians have been pursuing success with relentless resolve and with no shortage in inspiration, the trend should continue as Indian squash awaits another bright year in 2016.