From: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Education: Standard IX, Bombay Scottish School, Mahim
The Beginning: Neel took up swimming at the Otters Club in Mumbai and was doing quite well, winning titles at the sub-junior level. But watching his sister, Nikita (once a promising junior player in squash with many titles under her name), play squash and travelling with her ignited his interest in the game.
“I used to swim first, but my sister was already playing squash, and I used to watch her when I was young. Then I thought why not play squash, as it will be easier for travelling. Then I started playing it, and I really liked it,” Neel recollects.
Ritwik Bhattacharya, who was the first Indian to break into the top 50 of the PSA World Rankings, took Neel under his wing along with sister Nikita and began mentoring them at the Otters Club.
Ever since Ritwik set up his own academy in Khopoli about a year ago, Neel only travels once a month or before tournaments to fine-tune his skills. Despite limited hours of coaching and practising solo most of the time, the teenager stunned all by reaching the final of the British Junior Open in the Under-15 category.
On being a runner-up at the British Junior Open: “I was actually happy to reach the final. I defeated a person against whom I had lost to in the semifinals a couple of years ago. So I thought I should just go out there and have fun because I have already done better than what I had done two years ago. I wanted to win, but may be this time I didn’t have that urge. But next time, I will be ready,” Neel says.
Mentor: Ritwik Bhattacharya says: “I think he is fantastic. He is one of the top two juniors in the world right now in U-15 and I think he is on his way to becoming a world junior champion and playing the sport as a professional. It’s just about keeping the hard work and mentally being on track. I expect some good things from him, especially this year as well as in the future.”
Father: Prakash Joshi, a Financial Analyst, says: “I have played squash in college. I took my kids to Otters Club which has swimming and squash. Though they were into swimming, there was too much time required to pursue that and I couldn’t give them enough attention. So I thought I will make them take a sport I know better and groom them.
“Despite not training with a coach on everyday basis, he is competing with kids who are two and a half years older to him and still managing to win. If he does well, I will make sure he plays the PSA tournaments, but will always see that he has studies as a backup option.”
Mother: Mona Joshi, a home-maker and Neel’s personal nutritionist, says: “I will not make the mistake of letting him choose studies over sports just because he will be in Standard X. I have seen it with my daughter (now studying in the Yale University). I have seen that you cannot take a back seat in sports and you have to be regular with it. It’s all about balancing.
“He is a student as well as a squash player; whether it’s the boards, or the final exam, we will ensure that he keeps playing. The percentage can vary, but if he takes a break, his game may be affected. It is a competitive field, so he cannot take a back seat.”
2013: Winner, Junior Nationals Boys U-11.
2015: Winner, Junior Nationals, Boys U-13.
2016: Third, British Junior Open, Boys U-13.
2017: Winner, Junior Nationals, Boys U-15; winner, Cologne and Dutch Junior Open, Boys U-15; runner-up, Asian Junior Championship, Boys U-15.
2018: Runner-up, British Junior Open, Boys U-15.
Aim: “This year, I want to try to get into the Indian team for the World Men’s Junior Team Championship which is happening in India. It is going to be really special. I am also concentrating on developing my game.
Strong point: “He has a sense of the game, and is a quick learner. He picked the points and learnt the game better. He doesn’t need to be coached much. He doesn’t have that all-encompassing passion, but he is an all-rounder, and whatever he does, he does it well,” says his father.
“He is a hard-working guy with a lot of skill and a good mind for the game. His movement is good and he has everything needed to be a champion,” says coach Ritwik.
Areas to work upon: “I think I need to work on my fitness. Fitness is most important when you go into older age-groups. I also try to focus on my technique and movement. He (coach Ritwik) tells me my movement is good, but I need to move faster to the front and my T-position should be higher, in that way I can get everywhere easily,” says Neel.
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