CHENNAI: There is a wooden honours board hanging behind the main court at the Squash Rackets Federation of India's campus in Chennai. It's not easily visible, and there are only two names on that board, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, as the winners of the National Championship since 2012. On Thursday, Anahat Singh added her name to that honours board with a victory over Tanvi Khanna, as the latter was unfortunately forced to forfeit the final due to a knee injury after taking the first game.
"I am happy I could play well till the finals. The final didn't go the way we wanted because my opponents ended up getting injured. I hope we could have finished the match," Singh, 15, told this daily after becoming the youngest national champion since Chinappa won it as a 14-year-old in 2000.
Before becoming one of the youngest Asian Games medal winners, bronze in both women’s team and mixed doubles events, Singh was creating headlines as a 14-year-old to represent India in the Commonwealth Games. "The Asian Games were similar to what the Commonwealth Games were in terms of being around the top athletes, but I won two medals in China, so I will never forget that experience," she added.
Meanwhile, Velavan Senthilkumar bagged the men's title, beating Abhay Singh 12-10, 11-3, 12-10 in the final. In the rematch of the final from the previous year, the 25-year-old came victorious after a strong tussle in the first and the final game. "I was focussing on my fitness before the tournament, physically and mentally. I wanted to be in a good place where I could perform. Today, I had to focus on every single point, rather than thinking about the whole match. And that's what helped me," he mentioned.
In the first national championship since the inclusion of squash in the Olympics, athletes believe they now have a bigger goal, but at the same time, there are many years to reach Los Angeles 2028. "There are still five years for the Olympics. And it's a big tournament and I will need to train for it early, but for now, I am still playing juniors and I will think about them when the time comes," Singh added. Velavan echoed the sentiments and added," I am happy that squash is in the Olympics. For now, I am focused on the next tournament."
Cyrus Poncha, secretary-general of the SRFI, was happy with how the tournament panned out. "It went smoothly so we are delighted with how the tournament went. Our academy has been here in Chennai for 23 years. We have done many events here so always happy to conduct these events," he added with delight.
With the success in the Asian Games, where India bagged five medals, including two gold, the country has renewed interest in the game. Poncha detailed what went behind the scenes in the planning for these medals. "It was a long journey for us. Last year we did well in the Commonwealth Games and we put a lot of thought into the Asian Games as well. We could get a foreign coach and hold camps here thanks to help from HCL and the Tamil Nadu government. That has also helped us bring national and international events to Chennai. It has been a massive effort from SAI and the sports ministry, too,"
For the Dronacharya Awardee, the LA 2028 addition was like a dream come true but at the same time, he is also aware of the work that will go to make all the efforts towards the podium finish in the Olympics. "With the inclusion of squash in the Olympics, we also have something to look forward to. We have waited for 20 years for the inclusion and now that has happened we cannot be more happier. Squash in India is rising with all the performances we have been doing over the last decade, so the inclusion is going to help a lot. There is going to be a lot of time and effort involved in it. It's all a stepping stone towards all that needs to be done. We are working towards the program, hoping it will fall into place soon," he signed off.