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Vol. XXVIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2019

Looking beyond sweet 16

by S.R. Suryanarayan

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At the age of 14, Joshna Chinappa won her first senior national women’s title. That was an emotional moment, for that was her first step to stardom. As her career rose with achievements coming in tandem, Joshna began to add more national titles to her kitty. Now, 18 years later, when she had already become the face of Indian squash, this gritty woman had just annexed her 16th national title and what is more equalled the record that her senior, the one-time ace player Bhuvaneswari Kumari, had held. It was another emotional moment.

Joshna was just six years old when Bhuvaneswari won her 16th title in 1992. The tiny girl had by then begun to take the first hesitant steps in and round the squash courts at the MCC courts where her father, Anjan Chinappa used to regularly have a squash session. It is doubtful if at that age squash was more a pastime or a sport that she had fallen in love with, but as events from thereon happened, Joshna’s attachment to squash kept gaining ground. By the age of ten, this Chennai player told an interviewer of a popular sports magazine in recent times, she had dreamt of winning 16 national titles! That spoke volumes of her resolve, which only increased as years went by.

Critics would say that in the absence of a strong opposition, Joshna’s win in the national was always a foregone conclusion. That is stretching things a little too far, for, afterall, it is a competition where anything could happen, not necessarily through the superior play of her opponent alone. Then again, it is not her concern that none had really risen to challenge her until Dipika Pallikal. Karthik came strongly into the scene. Two years ago, her Chennai mate, Dipika had beaten Joshna in the nationals’ final in Mumbai. Indeed that was the first and only occasion when Joshna was beaten by an Indian rival in any competition in India. Dipika had earlier beaten her three times in events abroad. Many believed that Dipika’s rise would truly start a healthy rivalry. True, Dipika’s presence would have added spice to the women’s competition, but what could be done if she could not participate on a regular basis.

In New Delhi this time, Dipika was absent. Still, it would be far from the truth to say Joshna thus had a cakewalk, for Urwashi Joshi, her opponent in the final, grabbed the first game to to make it a contest. It is a different matter that this highly ranked Indian professional made light of that dent to win handsomely. But that is what supremacy does. Joshna that way may be excused if she dreams of adding a few more national titles to her kitty before she hangs up her racket! To have the national record in her name is her next goal and, for all you know, it will come about next year, if she continues to remain fit and keeps peforming.

Indeed, every year has been a happening year for this genial player, who is the first squash player to earn a job in the Government with her credentials. She is a senior sports officer with the TNEB. Last year, Joshna became the first Indian till date to win the Asian senior championship title, something that she achieved in front of the home crowd in Express Avenue Mall. And whom did she beat but Dipika herself in the final! This year, aside from the National success, she also had the distinction of being the first Indian player to beat the Malaysian legend Nicol David not once but twice, at a professional tournament and then the Asian Games. The result meant a lot, because Nicol, a one time World Number One, is held in such high esteem in squash circles.

Into her thirties now, Joshna remains fit as a fiddle and continues to participate in professional tournaments with the same enthusiasm that had helped her rise high in the sport. Clearly she enjoys competitions and challenges, not to speak of the rigours of training, for it is rare to see Joshna skipping a tournament. “As long as I enjoy the game” has been her motto and every squash lover would wish that this enjoyment continued and Joshna would bring to herself and the country more laurels in the period ahead.

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