Squash's Olympics tag adds wheels to Anahat's go pro drive - Hindustan Times

Squash's Olympics tag adds wheels to Anahat's go pro drive

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Dec 07, 2023 10:11 PM IST

The 15-year-old, fresh from her twin medals in Hangzhou Asian Games, is happy to take a step-by-step approach to the Olympics

Moments after squash was included as one of the new sports for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics at October's IOC Session in Mumbai, Saurav Ghosal, India's top squash professional aged 37, chuckled that he wished he was 10 years younger.

Anahat Singh poses for a photograph.
Anahat Singh poses for a photograph.

Anahat Singh, the reigning women’s national champion, is 15. This year's U-17 Asian junior gold medallist, she grabbed a couple of medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games — a bronze each in the women's team and mixed doubles with Abhay Singh. By far the brightest young talent in the country’s squash circuit, the soft-spoken teen from Delhi felt the timing of the belated Olympics tag couldn’t have been better from an Indian perspective, having come days after the squash contingent’s creditable five-medal Asian Games show.

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“It was almost like a miracle. Really exciting," said Anahat, the glee on her face while talking about it truly bringing out her age. What follows, however, is another reminder of her being unlike many other 15-year-olds.

“There's still five years left. But the Olympics is such a big deal that you need to start training for it from, like, now. You need that amount of time. Hopefully, I'll get to play there," she said.

While that is still a while away, what squash’s Olympics inclusion has done for now is give a clear roadmap to Anahat’s fledging career that could meet a few crossroads. Her elder sister Amira, whose footsteps Anahat followed into squash, took the college route with the sport and is currently pursuing her degree at Harvard University as part of its squash roster. Anahat, due to appear for her Class 10 exams in a few months, had been leaning the other way in her mind even though the college option remains on the cards. Destination Olympics, though, has only added wheels to her go pro drive.

“I was always somewhat sure that I would want to go pro. I really love playing this sport. But yes, this (Olympics inclusion) does give me a definite direction. It's going to be a target which I'm going to be working towards for the next five years," said Anahat sitting by the squash courts of Cricket Club of India here on Thursday.

"I know for the next five years that I'm going to be 100% serious about squash because the Olympics will be the next big goal. So, it does change my approach quite a bit — in terms of the amount of training and the amount of work that I'm going to put in. Because it is an athlete's dream to win a medal at the Olympics.”

At 15, Anahat has already been to the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, richer with experience from the former and medals from the latter. She has pocketed age-group medals at the prestigious British Junior Open (U-11 in 2019 and U-17 in 2023) and US Junior Open (U-15 in 2021), ticking off boxes that the stars of Indian squash — Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik — did in their junior days. For her age, it’s about those little steps, although Anahat isn’t shying away from drawing out a five-year plan.

“I mean, I do have to look at it from the long-term view. I'm still playing the juniors for the next three years, so it has to be step by step and tournament by tournament. At the same time, that is going to be the long-term goal: to win a medal at the Olympics. But before that there are other things as well, like winning PSA (Professional Squash Association) tournaments and some top junior events,” she said.

Already making her mark in the senior national circuit (she won the 2023 title after Tanvi Khanna retired in the final and lost the 2022 final to Joshana), one of Anahat’s goals for next year is to start competing in more PSA world tour events to climb up the world rankings. “I'm going to start playing more of the senior tournaments and less junior events," she said.

Juggling both this year has meant her “tournaments have almost doubled”. Right after the Asian Games, she turned up for the senior nationals last month. Currently in Mumbai for the CCI-Western India Slam Squash Championship, she will head out for another junior tournament later this month. The difference in level from the juniors to seniors is evident for Anahat, who believes playing the latter has helped her while competing in the top junior world events.

“Seniors is a lot more physical. There, your whole career is squash, you're working towards it day and night and everyone wants to just win no matter what," she said. “The amount of training that the seniors do, the precision of their shots and their fitness overall is much better than the junior level.”

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