Asian Squash C'ship: Saurav, Joshna, Dipika in semis

While Saurav defeated compatriot Vikram Malhotra 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 to make his first ever Asian semifinal, Joshna pulled ahead of Japanese seventh seed Misaki Kobayashi 11-7, 11-3, 9-11, 12-10 in a match of oscillating fortunes.

Saurav Ghosal (foreground) prevailed despite Vikram Malhotra's moments of brilliance.   -  M. Vedhan

It was a good day for India as three players - Saurav Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa – made it to the semifinal of 19th Asian Individual Squash Championship at the Express Avenue mall in Chennai on Friday.

While Saurav Ghosal defeated compatriot Vikram Malhotra 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 to make his first ever Asian semifinal, Joshna Chinappa pulled ahead of Japanese seventh seed Misaki Kobayashi 11-7, 11-3, 9-11, 12-10 in a match that witnessed oscillating fortunes.

Dipika had a smooth passage into the semifinal with a straight-games win over Hong Kong’s Liu Tsz Ling later in the day.

The clash between India’s top two players - Saurav Ghosal and Vikram Malhotra - was well-fought. The scoreline may suggest a routine victory for the 11-time-national champion, but Malhotra had his moments of brilliance.  

The U.S-based Malhotra, who was once the toast of the Indian squash after winning titles in every title category from U-11 to U-19, had a sloppy start. He was finding it difficult to get Saurav’s backhand corner shots back into play and was down 1-8 in the first game. He slowly began getting into the groove, employing flatter, fast-paced strokes to confuse Saurav Ghosal. For a while, it looked like the 30-year-old was struggling to spot the ball. But Malhotra was a familiar opponent, having beaten him in the semifinal of the National Championship in a five-game thriller before clinching his 11 title. It took Saurav a couple of well-conceived drops to close out the first game.

The second game was more evenly contested with both showcasing a vast repertoire of shots to the audience, but Saurav was always a step ahead of terms of short placement. Vikram lost a lot of points while attempting soft drops, with the ball touching below the lowest red-line more often than could be afforded. The trend continued in the third game as Saurav closed out the match with an identical score of 11-7, 11-7, 11-7.

“I think I was focussed and played intelligently. I hit the target area and it was a good match for me. He played well in patches,” Ghosal said after the win.

Saurav will next play fifth seed Leo Au, whose sister and top seed Annie Au also progressed to the semifinal with an easy win over Satomi Watanabe 11-5, 11-6, 11-3.

Dipika Pallikal Karthik didn’t face a major challenge from Hong Kong’s Liu Tsz Ling in her quarterfinal match. After an easy first game, the player from Hong Kong showed a little resistance by trying to attack more, but had little success. Armed with head coach Acraf el Karargui’s advice “to keep things tight and play in the back court a lot more”, Dipika pulled off a comfortable victory to make it to the semifinal of the Asian championship for the second time. The 25-year-old had made it to the semifinal back in 2010 when it was played in Chennai, where her campaign was ended by Nicol David, the numero uno of Squash.

On Saturday, a similar tougher challenge awaits Dipika as she will square off against top seed Annie Au of Hong Kong.  On her upcoming match against Au, Dipika said she will have to keep her focus. “If I am a shot-maker, Annie Hu is more defensive. She will make you work harder for each point,” Dipika said.  

But she is confident of her chances mainly because of playing in front of a large crowd of supporters.

“I feel more pressure when I am playing all alone without anyone to cheer me on. The crowd support helps me play better. I guess the home environment has helped other players as well. There are three Indians in the final,” Dipika said.

Meanwhile, Harinder Pal Sandhu put up a spirited fight but was unable to overcome the challenge of top seed Max Lee, going down 8-11, 9-11, 8-11. The duo played long rallies, but Max Lee made lesser errors and maintained his composure a lot better to register a straight win. He will play third seed and Malaysia’s top player Mohd Nafizwan. The Malaysian grinded out a 11-9, 11-6, 6-11, 16-4 win over Yuen Chee Wern in the first match of the day.   

The results:

Men: Mohd Nafizwan (Mal) (3) bt Yuen Chee Wern (Mal) (7) 11-9, 11-6,6-11, 16-14 (70 m); Leo Au (HK) (5) bt Yip Tsz Fung (HK) (4) 10-12, 12-10,11-6, 11-4 (80 m); Saurav Ghosal (Ind) (2) bt Vikram Malhotra (Ind) (10) 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 (35 m); Max Lee (Hkg) bt Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu (Ind) 11-8, 11-9, 11-8.

Women: Tong Tsz Wing (HK) (6) bt Joey Chan (HK) (3) 6-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7 (39 m); Annie Au (HK) (1) bt Satomi Watanabe (Jpn) (16) 11-5, 11-6, 11-3 (28 m); Joshna Chinappa (Ind) (2) bt Misaki Kobayashi (Jpn) (7) 11-7, 11-3, 9-11, 12-10 (35m ); Dipika Pallikal Karthik (Ind) (4) bt Liu Tsz Ling (HK) (5)11-3, 11-6, 11-6