As the Asian Squash Championship gets going in Chennai on Wednesday, the focus will firmly be on the trio of Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik. They have carried the burden of India for far too long now.
The stage is now set for the baton to pass on to the young guns as teenagers Velavan Senthilkumar and Sunayna Kuruvilla are primed to take over after impressive showing in the junior circuit.
Velavan Senthilkumar is the new pin-up boy of Indian squash. He has had a tremendous run the last few months, beginning 2017 by winning the British Junior Open U-19 title in January. He also pocketed the Asian Under-19 title last year and helped the Indian boys win the Asian team championship.
When I play in the court, I don’t want any distractions. I don’t know how that is going to work out in a mall. I haven’t experienced it before.
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After making the finals of two back-to-back tournaments in South Africa - Parkview Open and West Rand - the 19-year-old is exhausted, but ready to make his mark in the continental tournament. “It was a really good two weeks and I had to start from the qualifiers and play about 12 matches. It’s hard, but I did push through it. Hopefully I can make a good transition from the junior level to the senior level here,” Velavan said.
“I don’t have any expectations. I am just going to play my best,” he said modestly on his chances at the Asian Individual Squash Championship in Chennai. Being new to the seniors circuit, it is a realistic view.
Velavan likes to be in his zen zone once he steps on the court: he hates people moving around or cheering during a point and rulebook calls for silence when the ball is in play.
With many matches scheduled to be held at the centre of the Express Avenue mall, Velavan isn’t sure how the noise outside the glass court structure may impact his performance. “When I play in the court, I don’t want any distractions. I don’t know how that is going to work out in a mall. I haven’t experienced it before,” he said.
Then there is the matter of his fitness. Velavan believes he lost out in two finals because of his fitness. “I had to play from the qualifiers. I have played 12 matches in 14 days. I am tired and that’s why I will be taking a small break after the championship. But I have to improve my fitness, so we will try out new routines at the gym during the break,” the 19-year-old said.
Kush Kumar showed tremendous potential as a junior, so did Vikram Malhotra and many others. winning the Asian Games gold and World Championship bronze, but higher education abroad took precedence over squash and the intensity was lost. Squash has been a gateway to better higher education abroad and youngsters are lapping up the opportunity. It has becoming worrying trend for squash enthusiasts in India, with many players fading away from the scene after being active in the juniors circuit.
Velavan Senthilkumar has been doing well, but he will also be moving to U.S to study Economics at Columbia University in September. But he has set his mind on turning professional after graduation and promises to continue representing India wherever feasible.
“I am going to represent the University while studying and I will represent India whenever I get a chance to,” Velavan assured. For now, Indian squash will get its due.
Sunayna Kuruvilla is another young talent slowly finding her feet in the world of squash. The 17-year-old will be playing her first Asian senior Championship and the reigning U-19 national champion is keen to do well in the tournament and use that experience to win a medal in the World Junior Championship in July.
I have never compared myself to Dipika. I need to look realistically. I can never be as good as her, at least not now. But I will strive to work hard and play as good as Dipika and Joshna. I have learnt a lot from them.
From a string of semifinal appearances as an Under-15 and runner-up results as an Under-17 , Sunayna has grown steadily and is currently considered the top junior player with a victory in the U-19 championship last October. With the progress has come the resolve to turn professional and Sunayna has a target in mind for the year. “I want to break into the top 100 this year in the professional circuit and also play for my country,” the World No. 194 said.
She is amply supported by her cousin Dipika Pallikal in her endeavour to make it big in the seniors circuit. “I was very inspired by my sister Dipika. She introduced me to squash. She has pretty much helped me through everything and I can’t thank her enough. She has always been my role model,” Sunayna was effusive in her admiration for Dipika.
Dipika, for her part, also had encouraging words for her sister. “As embarrassing as it is to say, she is a lot more hardworking than I am. At a time when most of the juniors are heading to universities abroad on the back of squash, it is good to see Sunaiyna’s passion towards the game,” Dipika, who is seeded fourth in the Championship, said.
Will Sunayna ever upstage Dipika? “I have never compared myself to Dipika. I need to look realistically. I can never be as good as her, at least not now. But I will strive to work hard and play as good as Dipika and Joshna. I have learnt a lot from them,” the 17-year-old signed off.
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