Senior Indian squash player Joshna Chinappa has been left disappointed with the referee's decisions during India’s Squash World Cup semifinal exit against Malaysia at Express Avenue in Chennai on Friday, June 16.
The fourth seed Malaysia blanked India, the second seed, 5-0 to advance to the final against Egypt. India lost all three of their games and missed the opportunity to qualify for their first-ever final of the event.
Youngster Abhay Singh gave a tough time to Ong Sai Hung in the first match, taking the contest down to the wire. However, it was the Malaysian who sealed the match point in the fifth game and took a 1-0 lead with a 7-4, 5-7, 1-7, 7-1, 7-6 win.
Former World No. 10 Joshna Chinappa was expected to level the scores against World No. 55 Aira Azman. Although Joshna started well by bagging the first point, she tottered to lose the first two games with identical scores of 7-3.
During these two games, Joshna questioned some close calls, including the one where her opponent was awarded a stroke (swing blocked/prevented by the opponent).
It was apparent that the Chennai-based player was dispirited after she failed to convince the referee against the close calls. However, Joshna bridged the gap in the third game to stay alive. But Aira gave left no room for the Indian to make a comeback as she sealed a 7-3, 7-3, 5-7, 7-4 win.
Saurav Ghoshal, India’s poster boy of squash, was left with the arduous task of putting the host nation back on track. However, an injury to the 36-year-old ended India’s slender chances of mounting a comeback as Malaysia’s Darren Pragasam won 7-5, 2-7, 7-6, 7-5 to seal his country’s spot in the final.
Sportskeeda caught up with Joshna Chinappa after the semifinal to understand the process behind her preparations at the age of 36. She spoke at length about her loss to Aira Azman, the need for Indian squash youngsters to grow, support from coach Chris Walker and more.
Excerpts from Joshna Chinappa's exclusive interview with Sportskeeda
Q) What do you think went wrong tonight in the semi-final game against Malaysia?
Joshna Chinappa: I think it was unfortunate that Abhay lost his match. He was so close to getting that. To go 1-0 up on the scoreboard would have been really nice. For me, I think my opponent really played well today and I actually could have done better on some parts of the match. I tried to not let the ref get to me a little bit. There were a lot of close calls which really changed the fate of the game.
Yes, absolutely a little bit of disappointment (with the referee's decisions). Not the first time I have seen a ref that has made shocking decisions. It's just a part of the game. You got to get over it and you got to play a game where you don't involve the referees as much.
Q) Did the result of Abhay's game affect you?
Joshna Chinappa: Just a little bit, not massively. I felt disappointed for him because he had come so close and it was a match he probably should have won. But all credit to his opponent who played very well. I have been playing for India for 25 years. I have seen all kinds of situations happen like coming from behind, leading, and losing. It's just part and parcel of the game.
Q) What is your overall assessment of the tournament?
Joshna Chinappa: I think it's so wonderful that we had this World Cup here in Chennai. It's such an amazing venue. Having the support of the Tamil Nadu government really boosts the sport so much more. Having the crowd see what squash is is such a wonderful opportunity to showcase what an amazing sport it is. I am still so proud that I can play for India at the highest level. I can still play matches against players who are much younger than me and higher ranked at this stage.
Q) On your match against Satomi Watanabe in the final pool game against Japan?
Joshna Chinappa: Before I got on court when Abhay had lost there was going to be a lot of pressure to win this match. I kind of stopped thinking about that and just really focused on what I needed to do on the court. Try to hang in the rally a lot more and just be a little bit more patient. It really went down the wire between us. There was a difference of one or two points between us during the whole match and I was just happy that I came through that.
Q) What were your learnings from the tournament?
Joshna Chinappa: Well just that it gives you a clear indicator of where you stand with the game. I play with the best players at No.1. Every country has one player that is really very good. It just gives me this report on what I need to do for the Asian Games and how I need to prepare. What needs to be done for my game to go to the next level?
Q) At this age do you still need to put more effort into your game?
Joshna Chinappa: My efforts level has always been the same whether I was 25 or 35. It's just of course it gets harder as you get older because the body takes that much longer to recover. My training has definitely gone up several notches in the last year just to compete at this level. I am playing against players who are in their 20s. To get a win yesterday against a top player (Satomi Watanabe) was a huge confidence for me.
Q) You have watched Indian squash from a very close range. What are your thoughts on the youngsters coming today and the overall development of the sport in the country?
Joshna Chinappa: I definitely think Saurav, Dipika, and myself raised the bar really high. We actually got out there, played the professional tours, and invested a lot of our own money into the game. We train abroad very often and that is because we wanted to play at that level. So it is important for us to invest in 10-15 PSA tournaments and training abroad.
Today of course we have the next slot coming through. They are very good but I do believe they need to be supported a lot more. They need to be encouraged to play PSA events. Only when you are playing on the professional tour consistently can you actually perform when you play for India.
Q) How does your coach Chris Walker motivate the team?
Joshna Chinappa: Chris is a top player himself. He understands pressure situations. He understands what it is like to play at that level. He is quite a positive influence who is cheering on and encouraging us. He is always there to train with us. It's nice having him.
Q) Squash's quest with the Olympics. What's your take on that?
Joshna Chinappa: I feel like I have spoken about this so much, to be honest. Squash is such a wonderful sport with or without the Olympics. We have the Commonwealth and Asian Games. I am sure there will come a time when we do get in. (Chuckles on being asked if she will play by the time Squash enters the Olympics) 2028 is definitely too far ahead. It would be great obviously to get in.
Q) What do you do to keep yourself away from the game given that you play a lot around the year?
Joshna Chinappa: I am very good at switching off from people. If I do not want to be reached no one can reach me except my mom. It's something that I have been doing since I was very young. I figured out quickly what works for me and what doesn't work for me.
When I am in a match situation like I am playing a tournament. I don't speak to anyone. I don't get on social media. I just really stay in my bubble and speak to only two people. Probably my coach and my sports psychologist to talk about the game and keep my head in space. The minute the tournament is done I am back to my normal self. But when I am playing I am particular about accessibility.
Q) What is the significance of having a professional like a sports psychologist in your career?
Joshna Chinappa: Well, I have been working with mine for almost 15 years now. He has honestly been a huge support in my game. I think it’s very important to have that one person who you feel comfortable with and who can give you a perspective where it’s not emotional. My psychologist is so professional with me as he is a squash player himself.
He works in competitive football and really understands a lot of things I might be feeling when I explain it to him. We just come up with something I could probably focus on that gets me back on track. It’s just nice to have someone whom I trust and we can talk about the sport and talk about how I can get better at it.