Encouraging trends

VIVEK BENDRE

The British Junior Open was a memorable tournament for Mahesh Mangaonkar. He not only won the title, but also nudged out Oliver Holland as the best in this age category. By S. R. Suryanarayan.

Of late India has been making news in squash. Be it in administration (N. Ramachandran became the president of the World Squash Federation) or on-court action, particularly in the junior section, Indians have been in the forefront.

India’s performance in the recent British Junior Open, regarded as the most prestigious event after the World Championship, is a pointer to the nation’s growing stature in international squash.

In the past, India’s Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa (both Under-19) and Dipika Pallikal (Under-17) had won titles at the annual Sheffield programme, which is very much like the junior Wimbledon in tennis. Years ago, India’s Anil Nayar had won the Drysdale Cup in the boys Under-19 section. This year at the British Junior Open, Mahesh Mangaonkar won the title in the Under-15 section.

In the boys Under-13 section, Kush Kumar, who had won the Scottish Open earlier, finished runner-up, while in the girls Under-19 category, India’s Dipika Pallikal went down in the final to Low Wee Wern of Malaysia in four games. If this is not a vindication of the growing stature of squash in India, then what is?

While it may sound repetitive to keep linking the emergence of the India Cements Limited Academy in Chennai to the fortunes of Indian squash, the fact is nothing has given a greater stimulus to the sport than the state-of-the art facility in Chennai and the work of a dedicated group of coaches led by that Malaysian visionary, Maj. S. Maniam.

As a Consultant Coach in India, the contribution of Maj. Maniam, who had a role in the rise of Nicol David as the undisputed women’s world champion, has been immeasurable. As N. Ramachandran, who recently laid down office as Secretary-General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India after being elected President of the WSF, put it, squash had become an example for many other sport in India to emulate.

The ICL Academy has been instrumental in fine tuning talents in the country. Though Mahesh Mangaonkar is not a product of the Academy, he has benefited from the training camps there.

Dipika’s rise has much to do with the encouragement provided by Mittal Champions Trust and her stints in Egypt with celebrated coach Amr Elahi, the man who has also given tips to the Mumbai-based Mahesh. But like others, Dipika too gains from sparring at the Academy. So does Joshna Chinappa, who is slowly but surely making her mark in the senior ranks in the WISPA circuit.

National coach Cyrus Poncha, who was in Sheffield during the British Junior Open, was all praise for Mahesh. “An amazing talent who will go a long way,” was his first reaction. It was Mahesh’s own decision to take up squash. Even though he had no sponsors, his parents ensured that he missed nothing as Mahesh, coached by Vaman Apte at the Borivili Club, rose to the top in the Under-15 section.

Mahesh, who was considered World No. 2 before the British Junior Open — there are no official rankings — defeated Oliver Holland to become the best in this age category. After losing to the Indian in four games, the young Briton acknowledged: “My opponent was a fantastic player and he deserved the title.” If experts in Britain believe that Oliver is the player to watch in the future then it speaks highly of Mahesh who nudged out the Brit to emerge the best.

THE RESULTS

Boys Under-15 final: Mahesh Mangaonkar (India) bt Oliver Holland (England) 11-5, 7-11, 11-7, 12-10.

Boys Under-13 final: Amr Aboul Souad (Egypt) bt Kush Kumar (India) 11-8, 7-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-7.

Girls Under-19 final: Low Wee Wern (Malaysia) bt Dipika Pallikal (India) 11-2, 11-8, 8-11, 11-8.