Rhea Bhandare — helping aspirants learn from the best

The former India international regularly invites India’s elite players to conduct coaching clinics and help young aspirants make it big in squash.

Rhea Bhandare, a former international player and a four-time national juniors girls champion, is trying to help young aspirants attracted to squash. She regularly invites India’s elite players — Sourav Ghosal, the World No. 10 among men; Joshna Chinappa, the World No. 15 among women; Mahesh Mangaonkar, the World No. 67 among men; and Harinderpal Singh, the World No. 78 among men — to conduct coaching clinics where young trainees share the court with seniors.

“I am personally close to Joshna [and] Sourav, and have a good equation with others. They also feel about doing something to give back to the squash community, hence gave me days between tournaments to do the clinics.”

Over a period of time, she hopes promising kids strike a rapport with the squash professionals and that the best make a career in the sport. “When representing India, I went abroad to play tournaments. Looking back, I realised that I never got a chance to train with the world’s top players in the senior category from India, to learn from them. Today’s kids are fortunate,” she said.

Read | Ghosal credits foreign exposure for success

She added: “Sourav did a three-day clinic at the Khar Gymkhana, worked six to eight hours a day. Mahesh did one at Bombay Gymkhana and is doing the next one in May 2019 for club members. [Khar Gymkhana] is holding a camp the same month open to everyone. Joshna’s clinic in June will be at Bengaluru’s Catholic Club.”

Professional deal

It is a professional deal — coaching fees for players, airfare, and accommodation is recovered from the camp enrolment money. Rhea is also organising tournaments alongside Jay Shah (co-founder at 5 Sports) so that young Indians can gain Professional Squash Association (PSA) points and improve rankings entry into bigger tourneys.

The Otters Club Vedanta Squash Open 2019, conducted by the duo in Mumbai resulted in Abhishek Agarwal, Sanya Vats, Veer Chotrani and Aishwarya Khubchandani emerging champions — in the men’s, women’s, Boys U-19, and Girls U-19 categories. Aishwarya, the India No. 1 among Girls U-17s, benefitted from Sourav’s advice after an earlier camp in 2017.

Rhea is excited about the progress of the girl from Mumbai. She said, “Two years ago, Aishwarya won our tournament as a 13-year-old and later attended our camp under Harinder. Sourav, also present there, told her about the potential to be the next Joshna Chinappa. He told the kid to follow certain things and convinced her about progress possible. Aishwarya accepted the advice and stayed in touch with Sourav, who became a mentor. She is ranked seventh in Asia.”

Rhea, happy to have played a part, hopes more kids seize their opportunity in the sport.

Squash took Rhea to the United States, for a BA from University of Pennsylvania. A former Asian Junior Squash Championship player, Rhea also represented UPENN— as the university is called.

On return to India, she joined the family optical retail business, Bhandare Eyecare, as partner and then got into the business of sports with 5 Sports, the focus areas being squash and football at present.