Having harmonized their best-ever haul in the Asian Junior Squash Championship, tallying eight medals including a brace of gold, the Indian juniors are braced for the World Junior Championship, scheduled from July 7 in Doha. While the preparations has been systematic — coach Cyrus Poncha specified they haven’t left any stone unturned — expectations have to be assessed realistically in the perspective of a larger field that contains players on a higher pedestal.
As has been for India in their recent junior championship, two-time Asian champion Anaka Alankamony is their best bet for a medal. The 17-year-old, who lost in the pre-quarterfinals of the previous campaign, has improved by leaps and bounds. Taller and stronger, her game has evolved to suit the rigours of professional circuit. Seeded in the 5/8 bracket, the first of her real test would be the quarterfinal, where she is likely to face Egyptian Yathreb Adel, world number 31. If she hurdles past Adel, second-seed Emily Whitlock of England awaits her in the last four. Bettering Joshna Chinappa’s silver medal (2005) would be a momentous feat. “I have to win the pre-quarterfinal before thinking of the quarterfinal. The Egyptians are the toughest to play because they are skillful,” she said.
Aparajitha Balamurukan (9/16), Sachika Ingle, Harshit Kaur Jawanda and Lakshya Raghavendra complete the girls’ contingent. Harshit Kaur, who impressed with a bronze in the U-15 category of the Asian Junior, would look to punch above her weight. So will the rest.
The girls’ engagements span only a week as the team event was held last year, whereas the boys are to feature in both individual and team events. A medal in the men’s individual seems less possible, not with the likes of Egyptian Marwan El Shorbagy, compatriot Mohamed Abouelghar and Pakistan’s Danish Atlas Khan around. “Getting a medal is tough, especially with these Egyptians around,” Poncha said. “We are aiming for the quarterfinals, possibly a top-five finish.” The men’s squad comprises Vivek Pinodia, Deepak Mishra, Mahesh Mangoankar, Kush Kumar, Abhishek Pradhan and Vrishab Kotian with last four staying back for the men’s team championship.