Saurav, Dipika do India proud

India's Saurav Ghosal (right), who won the under-19 title, with the runner-up Patric Gassler of Germany. — Pic. BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT-India's Saurav Ghosal (right), who won the under-19 title, with the runner-up Patric Gassler of Germany. — Pic. BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

AFTER the Asian junior championship in Islamabad early this year, when the Indian girls won an epoch-making championship title and Joshna Chinappa the individual crown, the happy tidings at the German junior Open, held at the Point Fitness Club, Gerlingen, must rank as the next biggest happening in Indian squash.

AFTER the Asian junior championship in Islamabad early this year, when the Indian girls won an epoch-making championship title and Joshna Chinappa the individual crown, the happy tidings at the German junior Open, held at the Point Fitness Club, Gerlingen, must rank as the next biggest happening in Indian squash. Of the three Indians who stormed into the final, unprecedented till then, two, Saurav Ghosal (U-19) and Dipika Pallikal (U-13), converted the summit entry into title-winning performance, while the third, who looked the safest bet, Joshna Chinappa, failed by a whisker in the Under-19 category.

Everyone connected with the sport, and watching diminutive Saurav Ghosal change from an uncut diamond to a precious talent thanks to the systematic training he had been undergoing at the India Cements-SDAT Academy in Chennai under the expert eyes of retired Maj. S. Maniam (Consultant Coach from Malaysia), knew that success for this irrepressible bundle of energy was not far off. Not long ago, the youngster had even planned to give up the sport and actually left for his hometown (Kolkata). Soon, wiser counsel prevailed and he was back to turn more resolute. Still, what he achieved far exceeded the expectations. The current national junior champion and just 17, this school-lad had grabbed the Under-19 title beating a beanpole of an opponent, a local hero to boot, in five gruelling games. It was a typical David v Goliath story with the 6'4" Patric Gassler done in by the amazing resilience of the Indian lad.

It needs mental strength of the highest order not to be unnerved by a huge opponent and a partisan crowd rooting for the local player. Racing away to a 9-0 win in the first game, Saurav exhibited the aggressive side of his game. But the tall Gassler was more than better prepared from there as he blended attack and defence to outplay the Indian in the next two games. Suddenly, Saurav looked shaken and when Gassler reached match point in the fourth game, all seemed over for the Indian champion. That is where Saurav truly enjoys fighting. Surviving four match points and showing a rare touch of concentration and composure, the Indian clawed back and after a 25-minute nerve-wracking tussle, he grabbed the game. By now the German realised he had more than a handful as the Indian shifted gears to win points and take a handy lead in the decider before imparting the finishing touch. Saurav won the two-hour battle 9-0, 4-9, 4-9, 10-8, 9-6.

Earlier, Saurav had accounted for his good friend and the top seed, the Dutch lad Dylan Bennett in a contest that the observers thought was worthy of a professional encounter — such was the Indian's exhibition. Hitting perfect length and kills, Saurav had Dylan scampering all over the court to start with and then came the soft forehand drops to add lustre to his game. Saurav won 9-4, 3-9, 9-6, 9-7 in 75 minutes. This was the first time that Saurav had beaten the Dutch player. In the quarter-final Saurav swept aside David Harris of England 9-0, 9-1, 9-2.

Equally praiseworthy was 11-year-old Chennai girl, Dipika Pallikal's show. One of the most improved players in recent times, Dipika, the current Under-13 national champion, displayed consistency in her stroke selection which augers well for this girl's future in the sport. A runner-up at the Scottish Open earlier, the German Open victory was her first at the international level. Seeded second, Dipika won all her matches without dropping a game. In all she played five matches. In the round robin she beat Lisa Marie Sedlmeir (Germany) 9-0, 9-1, 9-0; beat Vanessa Wofl (Germany) 9-3, 9-2, 9-1; beat Cosey Cortes (USA) 9-1, 9-0, 9-0. Topping her pool, Dipika beat Robyn Hodson (Scotland) 9-6, 9-4, 9-1 in the semi-final and in the final, she repeated her earlier show in downing Lisa 9-0, 9-4, 9-6.

The one title that got away was Joshna's. The 17-year-old, a class-mate of Saurav in Lady Andal School in Chennai, had some tough matches but in the end what undid her according to observers was her fitness level. With the World junior championship scheduled in August in Cairo, Joshna needs to tone up on the fitness area but as for her class and resilience there were no two opinions: the Asian junior champion has it in her to unsettle the best. An Under-17 British Open winner, Joshna started off her campaign well when she got past Pia Kaindl of Germany in the preliminary rounds and then Lisa Gray of Scotland in the quarter-final, both in straight games. Her trouble started against A. El Tarabolsy of Egypt in the semi-final. Losing two games straightaway can be a disaster but Joshna showed her resilience as she fought back valiantly and before long it was the Egyptian who was shaken with tiredness. Joshna made the most of that situation.

In the final again the story was similar, Joshna dropped the opening two games against the 15-year-old opponent, Nihal Yahia of Egypt before coming back to take the next two. In control now, Joshna led 5-1 in the decider when inexplicably the Indian allowed things to drift. Her fitter opponent seized the opportunity to close the door on the Indian.

Four Indians had taken part in the event but Divya Rajan did not make much headway. Overall, the continuous upward curve in the performance level reflects the healthy state of Indian squash. There is much that Maj. Manian, the man who transformed Malaysian squash, had done for Indian squash with his innovative training methods. "I can myself see the difference the Major had brought to the Indian game and this will be further seen in the World Championship in Cairo," felt National coach Cyrus Poncha.

The creditable performance came in for rich praise from N. Ramachandran, Secretary-General, Squash Rackets Federation of India. He said both Saurav and Joshna have been enrolled in the PSA and WISPA (professional associations) for their respective circuits so as to help them gain points and ranking in the seniors.