She just feels like a natural on the team: Joshna Chinappa on Anahat Singh

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Sep 25, 2023 10:06 PM IST

Age is just a number for the Indian women’s squash team with young Anahat bonding with Joshna, who will play in her sixth Asian Games

Anahat Singh, the youngest member of the Indian women’s squash team for the Asian Games, says she has the most fun when she’s around Joshna Chinappa, her oldest teammate. No matter that the former is 15 and the latter 37.

File photo of Joshna Chinappa(PTI) PREMIUM
File photo of Joshna Chinappa(PTI)

“She understands my jokes and even I get hers,” Anahat says with a chuckle.

Joshna would also perhaps understand what it’s like to be Anahat, a young squash talent in India taking giant strides while holding bigger promise for the future.

When Joshna made her first trip to the Asian Games in 2002 as a wide-eyed kid in Busan, she was 15. The same age as Anahat, who will get her first taste of the continental multi-sport spread in Hangzhou. Her jovial teammate is preparing for her sixth Asian Games appearance. Together, they’ll form half of the Indian women’s team — it also includes Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Tanvi Khanna — that takes on Pakistan in its team opener on Tuesday.

The similarities between two of Indian squash's cream at either end of the career spectrum goes beyond the timing of their first Asian Games outing. Joshna was 16 when she won the girls U-17 title at the prestigious British Junior Open in 2003, by when she was already a junior and senior national champion.

At 15, Anahat pocketed her second British Junior Open, adding the U-15 crown earlier this year to her U-11 triumph in 2019. Two years later, she became the U-15 US Open junior champion, a first by an Indian girl in the event.

Anahat is following in the footsteps of Joshna, and ticking off boxes her senior teammate did while translating her junior success at the professional level as a top-10 player. While the teen may have only just started out on that path, Anahat has seamlessly blended into the Indian team atmosphere.

“She just feels like a natural on the team," Joshna says of Anahat, who was also part of India’s 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) squad. “She knows how to handle herself and brings her best game forward every time we play for the country. Because she's so young, a lot of it hasn't hit her yet.

“I learn a lot from her — just being so carefree and enjoying the moment. I like seeing that in her,” she adds. “She's always laughing and joking around with us.”

At the Indian camp in Chennai this month to tune up for the Asian Games, the two with a 22-year age gap did plenty of that. Mostly while not talking squash.

“We just talk about the most random things. Everyone else thinks I’m too kiddish, and they can’t talk about stuff they would normally around me. But with Joshna, she says whatever she wants and doesn’t really care that I’m around. We get along really well,” Anahat says.

Being around and training with Joshna and others, Anahat also loves to observe “the way they do things and how I am going to eventually do it once I reach that level”.

Squash is a sport where players in their teens have shone bright, a great example being Malaysia great Nicol David, who won the singles gold at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games aged 15.

Ranked Asia No.1 in U-17, Anahat heads into the Asian Games having won the U-17 Asian Junior Championships last month. From being “in shock just at the fact that I was going” to the Birmingham CWG at 14, there has already been a mindset shift in Anahat.

“My aim is a lot different at the Asian Games. For CWG, I just went to get some experience. Now, I know the level of all players and what to expect. I’ve trained accordingly and with the hope of having a chance at a medal. I feel like this time I’m going for that,” she says.

Joshna has gone for that plenty of times during her over two-decade career, returning with a singles bronze from the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games to add to her three team medals. That she is going for another one at 37 comes as a surprise even to her.

“Just to be here, the mind boggles sometimes that I’ve managed to stick around for this long,” she says.

A 11-time PSA title winner, Joshna’s strong 2021 season brought her back into the top 10 rankings at the start of 2022. However, a knee injury kept her away for six months last year, and a neck issue confined her to competing in just one tournament over the last three months. Yet, in beating Asia No.1 Satomi Watanabe of Japan in the home Squash World Cup in June, Joshna showed the level she can still summon when fully fit and firing.

“I feel like I’m back to the level I was at the World Cup. I’m just happy to be back on track,” she says.

“Honestly, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to play these Games, but I had some good results on the tour over the last few years. That made me believe that I could. Winning a medal is very realistic, and fortunately I have a very solid team with me.”

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