Asian Squash: Dipika, Joshna and Saurav line up for gold

For the first time three Indians — Dipika Pallikal Karthik, Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal — have made it to Asian championship final.

Dipika Pallikal Karthik in action against Annie Au during their semifinal match of the 19th Asian Squash Championship at the Express Avenue Mall in Chennai on Saturday.   -  M. Vedhan

The roar was deafening. For a change, the general mall-visiting crowd joined in to cheer the victorious players. After all, it is the first time that three Indians make it to the final of an Asian championship. It was undoubtedly one of the best days for Indian squash.

Dipika Pallikal Karthik was the first Indian to take the court at the Express Avenue mall on Saturday, and she didn’t disappoint. She defeated top seed Annie Hu to enter the final and set the tone for the day.

Joshna Chinappa didn’t waste much time to join Dipika in the final, ensuring a gold medal for India for the first time in the 19-edition long history of the Championship.

It was a perfect end to the day when Saurav Ghosal, the lone Indian left in the men’s competition, too gave himself a chance to make history by reaching the final with a clinical 11-6, 11-7, 11-3 win over fifth seed Leo Au of China. He will meet top seed Max Lee of Hong Kong in the summit clash.

Prior to her semifinal match against the top seed Annie, Dipika confessed to have checked the head-to-head stats. It was unflattering 2-7 against Dipika and the Indian was intent on narrowing the deficit.

After a close first game, Dipika was running away with the second with a 7-3 lead, but Annie isn’t the top seed for nothing. The No. 1 player from Hong Kong reeled off eight successive points with deft drops to take the second game and equalise the match at 1-1. The shot-maker that Dipika is, Annie managed to contain her by forcing the Indian to come forward to retrieve the ball.

It was a cruel reminder to another match that happened in Chennai in 2010, which Annie won 3-0 despite the Indian being ahead 8-0 in all the three games. Dipika didn’t want history to repeat and began to play with a lot more aggression and started moving a lot better. The moment she started moving well, she was able to dictate terms. Her powerful, hard-to-return strokes were on full display and the top seed couldn’t peg her down. After a slight slump in the middle of the game, Dipika played like a beast. The fist-pumps were in view, so were the roars. The crowd grew louder in cheer for the Indian and Dipika completed the formalities after another small comeback from the Hong Kong player.  

“I just wanted to win regardless of how she came back. I just didn’t want to lose in front of my family,” Dipika said after the win.

Dipika also hoped for Joshna to win her semifinal so national coach Achraf sleep in peace tonight.

Joshna heeded her call.  She was taking on Hong Kong’s Tong Tsz Wing — a player who was high on confidence after defeating third seed Joey Chan in the quarterfinal. The 30-year-old Indian knew it was going to be a tough win, but she produced top-class squash to make it a one-sided semifinal, winning the tie 11-6, 11-4, 11-8.

Joshna later revealed that she wasn’t surprised by Dipika’s win over the top seed. "I had a feeling Dipika would win," she said, "She has been playing well. She had a good game plan against Annie. She is aggressive and deserved to win her match."

Max Lee of Hong Kong kept to his billing as the top seed by progressing to the final in the men’s event with a 12-10, 11-6, 11-5 win over Mohd Nafiizwan in the first semifinal. After a long battle in the first game, where he was pushed to his limits by the Malaysia’s No. 1 player Nafiizwan, it was easy sailing for the World No. 16 from Hong Kong.