Readying for the big leap

FOR champion squash player Joshna Chinappa the day of reckoning is fast approaching.

S. R. SURYANARAYAN

VINO JOHN

FOR champion squash player Joshna Chinappa the day of reckoning is fast approaching. In a month's time she will be facing the biggest challenge of her career — a tilt at the junior world title. Antwerp in Belgium is the venue of what will be her final appearance in a junior competition and like her predecessors from the continent such as Nicol David of Malaysia and Omneya Abdel Kawy of Egypt, this Chennai-based girl from Coorg is eager to enter the senior ranks as `world champion'. At the moment it is a big dream, and Joshna knows it is never easy to realise any dream without sacrifice and hard work. She has been through such pressure cooker-like situations and made her admirers and detractors alike sit up and notice her potential with magical performances.

For one whose family tree boasts of that famed army officer, Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa (the first Field Marshal of the Indian army), Joshna's resolve would meet the approval of that famous man. With skills of squash ingrained from an early age, even as her father Anjan unwound himself at the Madras Cricket Club courts, the development of a fine player seemed the logical course. But where Joshna surprised observers was in her commitment to achieving goals. Like any girl of her age, Joshna is fallible to the temptations of eating and whiling away time, but when it mattered she could put a stop to these distractions. Squash had occupied her mind and as she grew up her only concern was to keep improving.

Joshna recalls with a sense of gratitude the role played by the Squash Rackets Federation of India, in particular Mr. N. Ramachandran, the Secretary-General, in providing budding young squash players world-class facilities in Chennai in close association with the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT). The Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association (TNSRA)-SDAT academy was the next step and the presence of Maj (retd) S. Maniam, the man who played a big role in the progress of Malaysian squash, and the national Coach, Cyrus Poncha, in the academy meant that Joshna and other talents were assured of a structured training meant to produce champions. National junior and senior champion, Asian champion, British Under-19 and Under-17 champion and quarter-finalist at the last World junior championship, form the jewels in Joshna's string of successes thus far. But the girl is thirsty for more. The kid in her has given way to a matured mind. This, plus the prompting of her key driving force, her father Anjan, has resulted in her drifting away from the Academy months before the Belgium assignment.

Parting is never happy, but in her case there was strain, too. Her greatest motivators in this hour of uncertainty were not only her parents, but also the former Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, the late Sunil Dutt. The Minister's personal interest opened new vistas as funding from the Union government was assured. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister also stepped in as did the SDAT Member-Secretary, P.W.C. Davidar. "I am definite without the help from all of them it would not have been easy for me," said Joshna, the day she left for Amsterdam, her base until the Junior World championship.

After a month with the coach who believes she has the potential to go places — Satinder Bajwa — in the U. S., Joshna is switching to Amsterdam, which is currently the most sought after training spot for the world's top players. The reason: Liz Irwing, a former World number two and now a coach known for her result-oriented training. Joshna will spend a month with her and also seek opportunities to spar with some of the best players in the world. She would love it if she can get her good friend and great rival Nicol David (twice world junior champion from Malaysia) as a training partner.

As the Belgium date nears, there is a touch of trepidation in her, but Joshna dismisses it as just a passing phase. "I have been through this pressure. But I am confident of my preparations. My fitness level is high and I am sure Liz will sharpen my on-court skills. I have my mother coming with me to ensure I do not catch loneliness blues," says this Chennai collegian. Asked who would be her key threats in Belgium, she said, "I feel Raneem El Walily, Sara Badr (both Egypt) and Charlie de Rycke (Belgium) are keen fighters and can be tough. Let us see...," she signs off, ready for the battle of Belgium.