Joshna Chinappa became the first Indian player to win the Asian Individual Championship after beating compatriot Dipika Pallikal Karthik in feisty five-game battle at the Express Avenue mall in Chennai on Sunday.
There was drama, lots of it, throughout the 78-minute gruelling battle between the two of the best squash players the country has ever produced. The final scoreline read 13-15, 12-10, 11-13, 11-4, 11-4 in favour of Joshna and it pretty much summed up the intensity of the game.
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They train together, tour together, play together and shop together, but they left their friendship outside the court to put on their battle-face for the all-important final. There were no smiles exchanged, no pleasantries shared. Smirks and frustrated howls were thrown in good measure during a heated battle where the two players slugged it out for every single point. A smack here, a drop there and wide-stretched hand to retrieve powerful returns, the two gritted it out shot for shot. For majority of the time, the scores were level.
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But things changed in the fourth game. At 11-all in the third game, a let call went against Joshna which subsequently resulted in her losing the game. A frustrated Joshna went to the extent of calling the referee a ‘cheat’ in the heat of the moment.
In the fourth game, instead of letting those refereeing mistakes bother her, the 14-time national champion stepped up her game. She started whacking the ball so hard, Dipika’s game fell apart. The 30-year-old, who recently made it to the quarterfinal of the World Championship, took the fourth game comprehensively at 11-4. The momentum had shifted completely.
It became worse for Dipika as she took a nasty fall after bumping into Joshna. After an injury timeout where she assessed her neck and head, the 25-year-old took to court again. But Joshna didn’t give anything away in the fifth game to clinch India’s maiden Asian title.
"I came with a very specific plan to play Dipika. I had lost the last few times. This time, I really came prepared to play her. The first three games were really close. It could have gone either way. But I came back strongly and won the next two convincingly. I put her under pressure in the final two games," Joshna said.
"My key today was to be aggressive. There were times earlier when I have been too relaxed. This is my biggest win against Dipika and one of my biggest wins ever. It's always special playing against her. I am sure it is not going to be the last time I will be playing against her,” the winner said.
Dipika Pallikal said Joshna was the better player in the final. “I thought she (Joshna) just played well. I didn’t step up in the fourth and the fifth game. She started attacking .I think she played really well to have won. I didn’t play my best squash. I gave her a big lead. I think that was the difference today,” she reflected after the match.
On her fall and the injury timeout, Dipika said: “I don’t know what happened... I fell down badly at home six months back and my head still hurts. I took an X-ray and there was nothing wrong. I didn’t want that area to become numb again, so I just wanted to be sure. I am okay now.”