For Indian squash, the Asian Games was the grandest stage to show its might as a unit. The eight-member Indian contingent, led by experienced stars Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, returned from the recent Hangzhou Asian Games with five medals - two gold, one silver and two bronze.
Naturally, the focus would have shifted to their respective individual careers with the 2026 edition in mind in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan being the next big assignment.
However, on October 16, athletes from the Tricolour nation as well as the rest of the world got a new and bigger target to aim at when squash, along with cricket, baseball/softball, lacrosse and flag football, was officially included in the 2028 edition of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
“All the squash players are so happy because we know how amazing this sport is and it is finally getting the respect it deserves on an international level. Day in, and day out, we have been practicing since we were kids and there is so much skill and fitness (involved). There is such a mental element to it. It has all the attributes that should make it an Olympic sport,” said Tanvi Khanna, India’s No. 2 and top seed on the sidelines of the Senior Nationals at the Indian Squash Academy.
The 27-year-old Khanna faces second seed Anahat Singh, 12 years her junior, in Thursday’s women’s final. It is the first summit clash since 2000 which does not feature either 18-time champion Chinappa, 37, or two-time winner Dipika, 32. The quartet won a bronze medal in the team event at the Asiad last month after which the two seniors have been mostly out of action including the national championships.
Five years is a long time. Players may be tempted to prolong their careers to make it to the Olympics. Nevertheless, Khanna and Anahat could be amongst the front runners to represent the country in the women’s category at the Los Angeles Olympics. “Until a month ago, Asian Games was the biggest tournament a squash player could play but now that the Olympics is also a part of the picture as well, all the athletes are going to be training towards winning a medal at the Olympics. Even though it is five years from now, everyone is going to be training and working towards that,” said Anahat, who made her India debut at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year.
On the men’s side, it is a repeat of last year’s final as well as the recent National Games summit clash as Abhay Singh, defending champion, faces Velavan Senthilkumar in the battle between two Tamil Nadu boys. For the former, the last two months have been nothing short of a dream.
The 25-year-old Abhay saved two match balls before defeating Noor Zaman in the deciding rubber to help India beat Pakistan 2-1 in the gold medal match of the men’s team event at the Asiad. He also won a bronze medal in the mixed doubles event with Anahat. At the National Games in Goa, Chennai-born Abhay defeated Velavan in straight games in the individual final while the duo also won the team gold.
Like the two women’s finalists, Abhay, too, is excited about squash’s inclusion in LA 2028 but a medal at the Summer Games is not his biggest dream just yet. “My biggest dream is to be India No. 1. I have grown up looking at India No. 1s and people winning the National titles,” said Abhay, who, at 63 in the PSA Rankings, is 40 spots behind the country’s top-ranked player Ghosal. Like last year, thirteen-time National Champion Ghosal did not participate in this year’s edition as well.
“The Olympics coming around is really good for our sport. There is still a lot of time to go. I’m personally not looking at it too much. A lot can happen in five years. Firstly, my focus is on doing well on the PSA World Tour next year and breaking into the Top 50. Once we are in January next year, the 2026 Asian Games will be just two years away. We will have two years to prepare and win gold again. This is my next big goal and then, the Olympics,” he added.
Mission Olympics - what does Indian squash need?
With Squash under the umbrella of the Olympic sports for the next five years, the Squash Rackets Federation of India and the Sports Ministry will have to strategise accordingly. There is no guarantee that Squash will make it to Brisbane 2032 and therefore, the country will require the best preparation possible to have a shot at the medal for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Khanna mentions the need for the inclusion of potential medal prospects in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme as well as more tournaments at home. “To qualify for the Olympics, you’ll have to have a certain ranking and unfortunately, it is quite tough for us to travel abroad without funding. One thing is if more players get funded by the government so that we can travel and play the tournaments abroad to improve our ranking points,” she said.
She added, “Not only that, if we could have at least five to six tournaments in India itself per year. Not the higher level ones, just the basic ones like the Challengers.”
Anahat felt the number of local tournaments is sufficient. However, the focus should be on coaching and quality sparring. “Mainly just more coaching from coaches abroad and more sparring partners because that will be great to get exposure from players from different countries and different levels,” said the teenager, who trains under Italy’s Stephane Galifi, a former World No. 40.
Abhay appreciated the financial help he has received from the government via the Sports Authority of India to travel for PSA events and hopes things will only improve after the Asian Games gold. “Hopefully, more money comes in from private sponsors so that we have the exposure to be outside as much as possible that helps us gain more experience,” he said.
The prospect of striking the squash ball inside a glass court in Los Angeles and donning the jersey with the tricolour is bound to add another dimension to a player picking up a racquet for a practice session as the countdown begins to the Summer Games in 2028.
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