Much before Dipika Pallikal swept the squash world with her feathery game and girly charms, there was Joshna Chinappa. Though injuries had taken toll on her career and impeded from achieving the heights she was capable of scaling, Joshna remains the true path-breaker of women’s squash in the country. Dipika only followed the blueprint, and improvised on it later.
When Joshna took baby-steps in the sport, randomly swishing and swiping the racquet in the MCC Courts, squash was still unglamorous, if not obscure. So much so that she winning the Junior British Open in 2005 went almost unnoticed. But when eventually her feats were acknowledged, they thrust unrealistic hopes on her. Credit to her that she lived up to most of it, though the hope-o-meter scale just exploded.
She took everything in her stride with a rare poise — the glam-bee image, the exaggerated spat with the Squash Racquets Federation of India, a dodgy knee that threatened a premature death to her career, world rankings that seemed forever struck in the mid-30s, the elusive WISPA title and so on and so forth. Her world seemed a peculiar blend of fame and frivolity. And then came the ultra-glamorous Dipika, pushing her almost to the sidelines, though Dipika herself reckons Joshna as her inspiration.
But Joshna just focused on her game so focused that such trivial distractions hardly distracted her. “Well, throughout my career, my focus hasn’t wavered. I have been through bad times and injuries, come across a lot of hurdles, but my passion for the game has never ceased. The sheer joy of getting onto the court keeps me up,” she told TNIE.
Persistence paid. WISPA titles followed. The injury healed. Rank-o-meter rose to a personal best of 25. Arjuna Award ensued. The year has seen an upswing. And Joshna is again smiling. “I think every athlete goes through a phase when you are beset with doubts. But you overcome it with hard work and persistence,” she stressed.
Now that she is almost back to her full fitness and treading a squash player’s perceived peak, Joshna looks forward to her career with a newfound optimism. “I haven’t set any specific targets as such. I just want to focus on my game at hand and do my best to overcome my opponent,” she said.
The Arjuna is a due acknowledgement of her accomplishments, but the world number 26 hopes it would spur more youngsters to pursuing the sport. “You need more youngsters to take up this game. Presently, it is popular only in a few cities like Chennai. But only if it reaches out to more centres will the game really take off,” she said. And not to forget, she is Indian squash’s first pin-up girl, though that’s not a tag she is overtly obsessed with.