Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVII No. 3, May 16-31, 2017

Two champions from the city

– S.R. Suryanarayan


Dipika Pallikal (left) and Joshna Chinappa

Like the Krishnans, father and son, and the Amritraj brothers who through their deeds boosted the image of Indian tennis and generated a special interest in the sport in the city and Tamil Nadu, two young women players from the State, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, have taken squash to a new level in the country.

Of immediate note is the historical happening recently at the Express Avenue Mall, when Joshna became the first Indian to win the Asian Championship. Her friend, rival and an equally talented competitor Dipika was the runner-up. For 21 years, India’s best in this event had been a runner-up spot, which the former national champion Misha Grewal had earned in the 1996 edition. Ever since, even though Joshna herself and Dipika too had made it to the semi-finals, Grewal’s best had remained India’s best.

All that changed that Sunday evening at the most unlikely venue for a sporting event, a shopping mall. If the portable court was unique, then the happenings for Indian squash were the rarest of the rare. Not just Joshna and Dipika, but also Saurav Ghosal (who incidentally now is Dipika’s brother-in-law, having married her sister) in the men’s section combined to place Indian squash right there at the top.

It has been a great journey for both Joshna and Dipika. Four years separate the two in age, with Joshna the senior, but the two grew up virtually together from school days on the squash scene at the Madras Cricket Club until the Indian Squash Academy took stock of their talent and moulded them. The vision of N. Ramachandran, an ardent squash lover, ensured the establishment of the Indian Squash Academy which has virtually shaped the lives of several young talents. It was during his tenure as the Secretary General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India that the ISA became a reality at the turn of the Millennium, with both the State and Centre backing the facility. Today it is an institution that has already helped script several wonderful moments for Indian squash.

Unlike many juniors of their time, both Joshna and Dipika decided that nothing else would drive them more than excelling in squash. So, step by step, they rose, winning national championships. Soon they fortified their reputations with international triumphs. The key moments were the British Junior Open titles, considered akin to winning the Wimbledon Juniors in tennis. Joshna won the U-19 and U-17 titles while Dipika bagged an U-17 title. This was followed by admirable performances in the Asian and World junior championships. Both have won Asian U-19 titles, while Joshna has also finished runner-up in the World Juniors. Aside from their individual performances, both were key to India’s good showing in team events, be it in the SAF Games, Asian Games or Asian Championships. The culmination of this remarkable run was the first ever doubles gold medal win in the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Despite taking part in several tournaments, including the professional PSA events (both have been top 10 players at one time in the PSA circuit), the two very rarely met face-to-face on the court. Not unexpectedly when the two met, sparks flew. It happened in the national championship where Dipika took the upper hand and then again in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 where Joshna had to accept the next best finish. The Asian Championship in Chennai changed the scenario in a pulsating final. In keeping with their ratings, the edge-of-the-seat contest gave little away to suggest who would emerge the winner until the final points of the deciding fifth game! By then there was enough drama, even a precarious slip and fall that Dipika suffered – though, thankfully, not serious. Joshna ultimately won and that was history, and affirmation of India’s rise as a force in Asian squash led by Joshna and Dipika.

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