For the 36-year-old Joshna Chinappa, the Indian Squash Academy courts in Chennai are where it all started. As a 14-year-old playing in her first National final against Vaidehi Reddy in 2000, Joshna had given ample glimpse of her growing potential. She defeated the senior player in four games.
Twenty-two years have passed, and Joshna still remains the best at the domestic level. From 2000 to 2022, Joshna has failed to win the title only three times. In 2002, she lost to Mekala Subedar in the summit clash, while in 2011, she didn’t take part. In 2016, she lost to Dipika Pallikal in the final.
Joshna’s domination continued in the HCL-78th Senior Nationals at the Indian Squash and Triathlon Academy in Chennai as she outplayed 14-year-old Anahat Singh. Anahat, playing in her maiden National final, fought hard though.
Joshna had withdrawn from the PSA World Championships in May due to illness and suffered a minor knee injury at the end of August this year which forced her to skip a few PSA tournaments, including the Grasshopper Cup. And she was not sure of participating in the 2022-23 Senior Nationals.
Speaking to Sportstar after her record 19th title, Joshna, a former World No. 10 said: “It feels great to win 19 titles. For four months, I was out of it after the knee problem. I was not sure of taking part in the Senior Nationals and decided to compete only a few days before the event. This will be a good preparation for future events.”
Joshna, ranked 30, is keen to improve her ranking before the Asian Games (AG) in September 2023. “I plan to play in PSA tournaments from January 2023 and get my rankings up for the AG,” Joshna said.
Joshna is two short of the world record 21 titles held by Luxembourg’s Sandra Denis. But she dismisses any such talk. “No world record. Thank you,” she smiles.
A winner of 11 PSA titles, Joshna doesn’t want to look far and insisted that she would like to take it year by year. She credits her recovery from the knee injury to her physio Yash Pande. “I didn’t train much after I injured my knee prior to the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Thanks to Yash’s help I was able to do well.” Joshna, seeded No. 1 didn’t show any signs of rustiness in the four rounds of the Nationals. She moved well with good shot selection and did not lose a game in any of the matches. Against Akansha Salunkhe, Joshna proved to be superior in all departments of the game.
However, her toughest opponent was the 14-year-old ‘pocket dynamite’ Anahat Singh, the No. 2 seed. In the final, Anahat gave a tough fight to Joshna. The reigning Asian U-15 champion, pushed the former World No. 10 with her excellent retrieves and deft placements. Using her vast experience, Joshna neutralised all of Anahat’s best shots.
Joshna was all praise for Anahat. “She handled the pressure really well and played a fearless game.”
No doubt, Anahat is here to stay.
Abhay bags men’s title
Abhay Singh is a powerful shot-maker and he showed his attacking game in defeating an equally good S. Velavan in four games in the men’s final.
The talented 24-year-old has been a trainee of Indian Squash Academy for the last decade or so.
As a teenager, he was seen as one of the brightest talents, but Abhay was not able to provide any breakthrough performance either in PSA or at the domestic level for seniors.
Abhay had won four PSA titles in the run-up to the Nationals — the Tuanku Muhriz Trophy in Malaysia, NSW Open in Sydney and two SRFI Indian Tour titles in September-November in Chennai and Jodhpur respectively.
The top seeded Abhay was hardly troubled by his opponents. He shrugged off the challenge from old warhorse Sandeep Jangra in the semifinals, before defeating Velavan in the final.
Ranked 74 (he was ranked a career best 72 a week after winning the Jodhpur PSA), Abhay is eager to break into the top 50 soon. “It’s been a childhood dream for me to win the Senior Nationals. I would rate it much higher than the PSA titles I have won. It was a dream, my biggest win and a very, very special moment for me,” Abhay told Sportstar. Admitting he was nervous before the Nationals, Abhay said, “We (Velavan and I) were playing in our first Nationals final, and we knew each other’s game. We were doubles partners in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. My strategy was to take the pace off his game,” he said.