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Pakistanis sweep squash tourney

india Updated: Jul 19, 2006 02:09 IST

It may not exactly be a squash renaissance in Pakistan, but the Bajaj Almond Drops Northern India Open squash championship did see sweeping success in the men's section by the neighbours.

Of the eight titles up for grabs, Pakistani players, participating for the first time in the tournament, took six. More importantly, in all the junior categories except one, the finalists were all from Pakistan!

Fifteen minutes before the men's final, Pakistan's Shoaib Hassan sat all alone on the floor, trying to get his rhythm, working out his game.

When he won the final point to take the title beating India number two and world number 60 Sourav Ghosal in a five-set duel, he was only fulfilling what he promised before the match.

"I am fitter than him, I have a chance at the title," he had said. The fitness showed.

It was his fitness that had seen him get past favourite Ritwik Bhattacharya in the quarters, compatriot Basit Ashfaq in the semis, and it was his fitness that helped him remain on top in the final.

Sourav was good, but limited in his efforts. Shoaib, on the other hand, was primed for the match. He started with a bang, his confident strokeplay becoming evident with every passing shot.

He took the first game 9-2, but then Sourav came back strongly to take the next two games.

Shoaib won the fourth, and the chase was on. The final game was a finely-balanced one, but again, his fitness swung it in his favour as he won 9-3.

What must have made the win sweeter was the fact that Shoaib still plays in the juniors and will be registering himself with the PSA only later this year.

The women's section, however, saw a different picture, with all five titles being won by Indians. The pièce de résistance, however, was the women's final between Mekhla Srivastava and Surbhi Mishra.

The match-up could not have been more contrasting. At 30, Mekhla is a veteran, having moved on to coaching now. Surbhi is still in her teens, considered the next big hope, and talented as they come.

It didn't matter. Even before the final began, Mekhla was charged up. "Playing the final against someone almost half your age is exciting. I feel pumped up." After the match, she was glad that she won. Maybe to prove she still has it in her to win.

The game began well enough for her. As Surbhi hit crackling smashes, Mekhla played more of a tactical game. And while the youngster got excited with every lost point, and questioned close calls, the veteran kept an impassive face, went for her shots, and placed them such as to ensure they were beyond reach.

She won the first game and looked confident, she lost the second and appeared calm. As the final point was won, Mekhla had proved herself again.