TOP OF THEIR GAME
With yet another medal haul, squash players Joshna Chinappa, Saurav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal Karthik are proving that good things can come in threes
As Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal geared up for the WSF World Doubles Squash Championship in early April, they did, of course, want to progress in the tournament and improve on their previous performances. But they shared another, more personal goal: They hoped to get their common partner, Dipika Pallikal Karthik, ready for the highest level of the sport again. Pallikal Karthik last played the US Open in 2018. After delivering twin boys in October 2021, she was now looking to make a comeback.
“We wanted to let her feel the intensity of tournament play again. She’s been through a lot and your motivation kind of ebbs and flows a bit,” says Ghosal. By the end of the week, Pallikal Karthik had two golds to her name. She first teamed up with Ghosal to take the mixed doubles final, and an hour later, partnered Chinappa to win the women’s doubles title. It was India’s best result at the event, a morale-boosting performance which came just in time, ahead of this year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games.
“Since Dipika had been out for a while, she was obviously going to be targeted. We had to figure out how we could mask her weaknesses and accentuate her strengths as much as possible,” Ghosal says. “We wanted to make the top four so that we got a decent seeding at the Commonwealth Games. Winning the entire event is a bonus, a cherry on top of the cake.” The startstop schedule during the pandemic slowed down both Chinappa and Ghosal. Once the tour got more consistent, the duo would fly to Chennai to spend time with Pallikal Karthik. “We started training as often as we could about four months back; our partnership on court has been effortless even though she was away,” Chinappa says.
After a quiet celebratory dinner in Glasgow, the trio started looking ahead. For years now, they have been the flagbearers of Indian squash. Since 2010, these three players alone have won a total of 21 Commonwealth and Asian medals. They know that many hopes are pinned on them. While Pallikal Karthik, 30, will look to play more tournaments to find her groove in the run-up to these tournaments, Ghosal and Chinappa are both now 35. They know there is no getting younger. “I have had to work a lot harder on my strength and conditioning, be more aware of my diet and also make sure I recover well between training sessions to avoid injuries and keep my body prepared for workouts,” Chinappa says.
Chris Walker, a two-time World Championships medallist from England, was recently appointed coach of the Indian team. The World Doubles was Walker’s first assignment, and India’s twin victories have only raised collective hope. “He’s been very enthusiastic. He brings a wealth of experience. If we can take on board as much [of his advice] as possible and improve, it’ll be a win-win for all,” Ghosal says.
It isn’t just the Commonwealth and Asian Games, expectations from these champions are always high. How much pressure do they feel? Chinappa says it’s all a part of the game: “I enjoy it and feel grateful I have this opportunity. It’s also so much fun having my teammates alongside me to experience this.” ■