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Vol. XXXIII No. 6, July 1-15, 2023

It was squash time in Chennai

-- by S.R. Suryanarayan

Big time squash is nothing new to Chennai. Ever since the establishment of the Indian Squash Academy (now Indian Squash and Triathlon Academy), a brainchild of Mr. N. Ramachandran, prominent industrialist and a former President of the World Squash Federation, squash in India has been having a new lease of life. Mr. Ramachandran was the Secretary General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India when he made his dream of a squash academy a reality. The turn of the new millennium saw the world class facility open the door to exciting hopes for the talents in India. In many ways, squash which used to be by and large a club preserve, rose to become a medal-winning sport for India in major international Games. The most recent success was in the Asian team championship less than a year ago in South Korea where Indian men won a gold for the first time. Three members of that team: Saurav Ghosal, Abhay Singh and Vellavan Senthilkumar had their upbringing at the ISA.

Chennai thus had become a hub for squash in India and over the years a venue also for events like the world men’s championship, world doubles championship, Asian individual and team championship for senior and juniors. The latest event which just concluded in the city on June 17, the SDAT WSF-World Cup was the second time it had come to Chennai, the earlier being in 2011, which incidentally was also the previous edition. The present event after a long gap effectively was thus the fourth edition and basically a revival of the series which the WSF had in India and hence ­Chennai was a willing host.

True a few top players were missed from some teams but not the quality of the contests nor the drama of the close fights with a huge gathering there at the Express Mall, a feature on all the five days of the championship. To add spice to the event, the WSF tweaked the rules a bit. For instance each tie was decided over four matches (two men’s and two women’s singles) representing a gender parity never seen before. Also, each game was played over 7 points and not the conventional 11 and every match was decided over five games. Additionally, the winner of the top ranked player in the tie was awarded two points where the rest three get one point each. This also helped in deciding the final result in the event of the two competing teams splitting the four singles. All these changes brought a fresh variety to the contests apart from lending a touch of swiftness and excitement to the action on the court. As the WSF President, Zena Wooldridge put it aptly, the quality of contests resembled a T20 cricket match!

Joshna Chinappa (left) and Saurav Ghosal on right.

Perhaps all this had its effect from the size of the gathering at the busy Mall and the only touch of disappointment, if one can say so, was the failure of India to reach the final let alone win glory. True, Egypt was always considered the powerhouse; such has been the country’s tradition in this sport and expectedly it was the fancied side which went on to win at the expense of Malaysia and yes in effect retained the title. In 2011, Egypt had won the Cup. India which was seeded second and was billed to challenge Egypt in the title-round, failed against Malaysia in the semi-final; a loss that was unexpected but happened. Be it Abhay Singh or Joshna Chinappa or Saurav Ghosal (Tanvi Khanna, was the fourth member of the team) none could emerge a winner and the Mall witnessed jubilant scenes from the Malaysian supporters who were more than a handful on that sad Friday for India! On the final standings India was placed third.

In all eight countries had taken part – host India, Egypt, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong-China, Colombia and South Africa – bringing to Chennai, a kind of variety that was well received by the squash lovers. Mention has to be made of the wisdom in using a Mall for the conduct for it fitted in well with the theme of taking squash to the masses. The growing numbers of the enthusiasts provided an inkling about the rising popularity of squash, something WSF officials watched with a sense of satisfaction as they aspire to take this sport to the Olympics before long.

A great event needed public support and the Chennai enthusiasts did not disappoint there. Equally heartwarming was the support of the Tamil Nadu Government. The Rs two crore that the State government extended (Udhayanidhi Stalin, Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development presented a cheque to that effect) to the organisers underlined the importance that the Government gave for the development of sports in the state. On the final day the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin himself was there to give away the Cup and prizes at a well organised function at a five-star hotel.

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