CHENNAI: How often do you see an athlete win the first top-level prize towards the fag end of his/her career? Of course, there are specimens like Roger Federer who won everything at a young age and is still continuing to do so or is at least pushing the current generation to their maximum. But let’s talk about Earthlings for now.
Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu has had an eventful squash career with some Asian Games (3) medals in his pocket. He has travelled around the globe, playing some of the best in business for almost a decade now. But at 30, his 11-5, 11-6, 11-7 win over Tomotaka Endo in Mumbai on Saturday is his biggest-ever Professional Squash Association (PSA) tournament achievement.
What makes the victory more special is the fact that Harinder had just come back from a career-threatening injury at the Chennai leg of the HCL-SRFI India Tour. With disk bulges, nerve impingements and scoliosis, Harinder was not sure if he could ever return to court a year ago.
“This is the first time I have won a $20,000 PSA event. I have reached the finals before but have never won. This is only my second tournament of the year. I just had to be mentally ready. Even if games did not go in my favour, I knew I could push myself because I have trained well. I have been working on the physical aspect of the game. And it was just about how much hunger I have to win and somehow it worked this week,” he told this daily.
However, this was not Harinder’s first laurel after the injury. He did bag silver in the men’s singles category at the recently concluded South Asian Games. But despite travelling with a young team, most of whom were representing India for the first time, Harinder was more than happy to help. “All the others were first-timers, especially the men’s team. It was a big boost for them. And regarding me playing with them, playing for India has always been a priority for me. No matter what stage or what level. That has always been my goal since I started playing.”
In Nepal, he got another chance to showcase his coaching skills with the youngsters — Harinder also coached the Indian contingent that travelled to Malaysia for the Asian Individual Squash Championships in May. But back in the circuit, Harinder wants to make use of every opportunity to increase his ranking. Currently at 177, his win over 120th-ranked Endo would have helped him a lot on that front. “I feel much better physically than how it was in Chennai. Obviously, I am getting used to the high-intensity matches, playing regularly and I think I am getting better. Since I have dropped out of the top-100, even a smaller event will help me. I don’t mind playing in smaller events as long as it helps me play bigger events in
That being said, Harinder will next be seen in action at the Jaipur leg of the India Tour in the first week of February.