World Jr. Squash: India takes on Saudi in opening tie

India is seeded fifth, while defending champion Pakistan has been seeded 11th.

A view of the portable squash stadium installed at the Express Avenue for the WSF World Junior Squash Championship matches.   -  S.R. Raghunathan

The men’s team event of the World Junior Squash Championship commences Tuesday with 24 countries split into eight groups of three based on seedings. Each team will play two ties in the group stage with each tie consisting of three singles matches.

India starts off the tournament on Tuesday playing Saudi Arabia at the Indian Squash Academy and later, it will take on Switzerland in the only match at Express Avenue mall on the day.

Defending champion Pakistan has been seeded 11th this year. And the runner-up in the last edition in 2016, Egypt, has been drawn as the top seed owing to its players’ superior performances over the last year. India is the fifth seed and will play its round-robin matches against Switzerland and Saudi Arabia in Group E.

Read: Araby, Asal squash like Egyptians!

The seeding process was based primarily on form and results over the past year of players from each country, including their performance in the ongoing individual event at the World Juniors. “A team of coaches and managers sit down and discuss the seedings after an initial list is sent by the World Squash Federation (WSF),” said Championship director Cyrus Poncha.

Yash Fadte, Utkarsh Baheti, Rahul Baitha and Veer Chotrani will play for India. After a sixth-place finish in the previous edition of the men’s tournament in 2016, India will be looking to finish on the podium at home. “We are strong as a team and i think we have a better chance in the team championship,” said national No. 1 in the U-19 category, Yash Fadte.

It doesn’t look a tedious task for India to get out of its group. Saudi Arabia is seeded 23rd and India may only have to be wary of the 12th seed Switzerland. But Yash says they will not be taking any team lightly. “We’ve got a good draw. But every match will be tough. We’re not taking anything lightly but we have a very good chance”, he said. Utkarsh, Rahul and Veer will play against Saudi Arabia, while Yash will take part in the tie against Switzerland.

In the round-of-16, India could meet either Pakistan or Czech Republic. “Both of them are good teams. Even if they don’t have the same players, Pakistan are the defending champions and Czech Republic could be tough,” Yash added.

There were some new elements in India’s preparation for the tournament. For the first time ever, the boys underwent a three-week special conditioning programme to improve their fitness, at Quantum Leap Performance Centre, where the focus was on achieving sync with both fitness and skill.

Strength and conditioning coach Manav Mukund said, “It was just a few weeks before the tournament and at that stage, skill takes more priority over fitness. We managed to hit the areas the skill coaches couldn’t.” He sees a big difference in the players owing to the fitness programme. “The boys have been playing the best squash of their lives. You can see it in the way they move, the power in their strokes, they can last longer in rallies and longer into games now,” he said.

The players too, agree. “Our movements have improved and the strength sessions have helped as well. We've gotten a little quicker and stronger and I think we can also last longer in rallies now,” said Veer Chotrani.