Curtain raiser: The Asian Squash Championship in Chennai
Seven years after Chennai hosted its first Asian Squash Championship, the Indian Squash Academy in the city is at it again, hosting the 19th edition of this tournament next week. Featuring over 30 of the best squash players from across the continent, this event, organised by the Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association (TNSRA) on behalf of The Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI), has a famed legacy and is expected to draw in a massive crowd this year. “Over the next couple of weeks, more than 5 lakh people are expected to walk into the Express Avenue mall. Some will see a squash court for the first time ever,” says Cyrus Poncha, who will be accepting the Coach of the Year award by the Asian Squash Federation (ASF) at the end of this month. We speak with him, as well as four of the top names in the Indian line-up, including a debutante, who are expected to perform well, even as we lament the fact that squash has not been included in 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Cyrus Poncha, 41, who currently coaches at the SRFI, is expecting the Indian players to face stiff competition from Malaysia and Pakistan at the Asian Championships. “Overall, this event will witness close to 20 players being ranked in the top 50 in the world, both in the men’s and women’s categories. We will certainly see the best of squash in Asia,” he says. Players to watch out for? “Our current under-19 national champion Velavan Senthilkumar, Abhay Singh, and a few others.” As for squash’s success in India, Cyrus is upbeat. “Special credit needs to be given to N Ramachandran, the current patron of SRFI,” he says.
Having trained at the Indian Squash Academy for the past eight years, Sunanya Kuruvilla, the 18-year-old cousin of Dipika Pallikal Karthik, is confident ahead of her first Asian Championships. “Playing professional tournaments have enabled me to stay a lot more calm getting into this big event,” she says. Noting that players from Hong Kong and Malaysia are very strong, she says that it is important to maintain consistency if they need to achieve the desired results. The same goes for her personally too, if she needs to break to the top.
Dipika Pallikal Karthik
Showing exemplary maturity, Dipika insists that she will focus on one match at a time. However, there seems to be no pressure on this 25-year-old. “I enjoy playing in front of my family and the home crowd,” she says, adding, “ I obviously have big goals, but I wouldn’t want to think about those just yet. As long as I’m injury free and enjoying my sport, the results will come.” She believes that the top four women and men in our country can do really well. “Since coach Ashraf el Karagui has come to India, the players have been doing good. He’s a hardworking coach and we hope to perform well under his guidance,” she says. Will we see her cricketer husband cheering for her from the stands? “I would have loved to have Dinesh in my corner, but unfortunately, his IPL schedule is packed and he won’t be able to make it for any of my matches,” she says.
Saurav Ghosal has been a force to reckon with ever since he made his debut in 2003. Since then, the 30-year-old has achieved a considerable amount of success, including a career-high rank of 15. Confidence reigns supreme in his voice as he believes he already has a good shot at the title. “This tournament gives you a chance to play against the very best in Asia, which might not be possible in the initial years on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) tour,” he says. He expects top seeds like Max Lee from Hong Kong to be one of his biggest challengers. Among Indians, watch out for Harinder Sandhu and Velavan Senthilkumar, he says. Saurav though, with brutal honesty, admits that he is not overly happy with his current ranking. “Winning gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian games next year is the big goal,” he says.
Karnataka girl Joshna has been a regular in the Asian Championships since the age of 14. The highest-ranked Indian squash player in the world, the 30-year-old is already looking forward to tournaments following this one. “The Asian Championships is just another important tournament for me on my calendar and I looking forward to giving it my best. I am also looking to do better at the big events on the PSA tour. And next year, we have the Common-wealth Games and Asian Games which are important for me,” she says.Acknowled-ging the support given by the SRFI and the Indian Government along with the Sports Authority of India, she says, “We had a coach travel with us for the first time ever for the British Open and World Open this year. Hopefully, we can have the coach travel with us for all tournaments. I would like to see more players around the country being coached and financially supported as well.”
April 26-30. At Express Avenue. Details: indiasquash.com