Going places, never veering off the track

As a kid, Veer Chotrani would spend hours at home hitting a squash ball against the cupboard or the book shelf and converting whatever he got in hand into an imaginary racquet. The room turned into an imaginary squash court and he kept scores in games against an invisible opponent.

Veer Chotrani outlasted top seed Siow Yee Xian of Singapore and fancied Harris Qasim of Pakistan in the quarterfinal and semifinal respectively, and then squashed teammate Yash Fadte’s hopes in the U-19 final of the Asian juniors in 2019.   -  Vivek Bendre

Age: 18

From: Mumbai

Hyper-active little kids hooked on football, hockey, cricket, badminton or athletics is normal. Veer Chotrani’s hand-eye coordination for racquet sport stood out from early years and squash became his entry into a fantasy world. The 2019 Asian junior champion at 17 is currently honing his skills under noted coach David Palmer at Cornell University, New York. The American collegiate experience and personal supervision under the former world champion from Australia can only benefit the young Indian to perform better at the higher level.

The freeze on competitions in 2020 due to the pandemic led to cancellation of the Asian Junior Individual Championship (China) and WSF World Junior Championship (Australia), denying him the opportunity to prove his mettle in age group events at the regional and international level. He also missed the chance to retain the Asian junior individual boys’ title that he won last year in Macau.

Veer was in top form in that tournament as he outlasted top seed Siow Yee Xian of Singapore and fancied Harris Qasim of Pakistan in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, and then squashed teammate Yash Fadte’s hopes in the under-19 final.

Palmer, former world men’s No. 1, got a close look at the teenager from Mumbai at a private training session in New Delhi. Veer was accompanied by father-cum-coach Manish Chotrani, two-time India men’s national champion (1999, 2001). The latter remembers the time when the kid would spend hours at home hitting a squash ball against the cupboard or the book shelf and converting whatever he got in hand into an imaginary racquet. The room turned into an imaginary squash court and he kept scores in games against an invisible opponent.

The strokeplay sessions started even before he enrolled in school (Jamnabai Narsee, Mumbai) and those hours spent hitting the ball resulted in development of game instinct or what is referred to as muscle memory.

The wristy punch, feel for the angles and canny court movements assisted the kid rise through the ranks, winning age group titles in city tournaments. He qualified for the Asian Juniors for first time as a 15-year-old in the under-19 category. Last year at the senior nationals in Pune, he progressed to the men’s semifinals before bowing down to India international Mahesh Mangaonkar, the eventual champion.

Collegiate sport in the US is the focus of Veer’s attention for now, till the circuit resumes. The 2019 World Juniors quarterfinalist in Kuala Lumpur is getting noticed from season one at Cornell University. A freshman in 2019-20, enrolled in arts and life sciences, the Indian earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Year distinction and was named in the College Squash Association all America first team. The 5’ 9” tall Veer got a place in the CSA All-America first team and in the Ivy League All-America first team in 2020.

What they say

Father-cum-coach Manish Chotrani, two-time men’s national champion: Veer took a natural affinity to the game watching my matches as an kid. He was in awe of the racquet and ball and my trophies displayed at home fascinated him. He picked up the sport very early as there was no pressure on him.

My main motive then was for him to be healthy and enjoy squash. His first tournament win was in under-nine category at six and a half years. Seeing his potential and passion, we exposed him to everything possible to excel. A. I. Singh was his coach for six years and he trained under Ritwik Bhattacharya for a brief period in Mumbai. I was always around to train with.

Veer with his father Manish Chotrani.   -  Special Arrangement

 

He got selected to play in the U-19 World Juniors at 15. Veer attended a selection trial and beat players older than him to get the nod, got chosen again for World Juniors at 16 and 17 years. We were planning for a podium finish at the World Juniors this year, now it stands postponed. In 2019 before the Macau Asian Juniors, he trained under David Palmer in the US during last year vacations.

The coach agreed with my assessment about Veer having the game and the skills to excel in the World Juniors in 2020. But the pandemic disrupted the plan. The decision to make squash a career depends only on him. The level of collegiate squash is very high in the US. Along with studies he is constantly training under a famous coach and represents his college team at the number one position.