Squash all opposition, Joshna

At 19, Joshna Chinappa of Chennai became the first Indian girl to win the prestigious junior title of the British Open Squash Championship. She won the indoor racquet game title in August 2005. She also became the first sportsperson to be adopted by the Mittal Champions Trust – a trust started by steel tycoon L.N. Mittal to sponsor and encourage champions at the right time so that their talent can flower.

People who are not very interested in sport may have heard of tennis sensation Sania Mirza because she is always in the public eye. Also, tennis has been made popular by the popularity of players in the past, such as Vijay Amritraj, Ramanathan Krishnan and several others. In contrast, squash is a sport that is not much in the public eye.

Squash is played on an indoor court enclosed by four walls. On the front wall is a tin surface one feet from the bottom. This is the net that we see in lawn tennis. The server serves the ball above the tin; the return too must be placed above the tin. All balls must be hit against the front wall though they can bounce off the side walls before hitting the front wall. A rally ceases when one player cannot return a ball to the front wall or the ball hits the tin. A game is played out in three to five sets. A very fast game squash requires a very high level of physical fitness and coordination between the eye and the hand.

So while Joshna’s British Open title may have made people wonder who she was, those who follow the game are not very surprised at her achievements. She has been at it for a long time.

To get to the beginning we must go back to her childhood. As a child Joshna used to go with her father Anjan to the Madras Cricket Club. She would play in the area for children and see her father play squash in the courts nearby. That triggered an interest in the game in the mind of the little girl.

Soon Joshna took to squash. By eight she was winning tournaments. First it was the under-10 national title, then the under-14 title. It is interesting that she has won several titles in events where she has been much younger than the specified age category. At 15, Joshna, technically in the junior category, became the national women’s champion – a title she has claimed six times! As a 15-year old she won the under-17 Dutch Open title. She is currently ranked no. 1 in India.

If Joshna’s determination is anything to go by, we can expect better and better from her. It also helps to know that the family she comes from includes Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first Commander-in-Chief of the army of independent India.