India’s No. 1 squash juniors Mahesh Mangaonkar of Mumbai and Anaka Alankamony of Tamil Nadu are bracing for sterner tests ahead, following significant achievements in the recent past that promises to take their favourite sport to the next level, reports Don Monteiro.
Mangaonkar and Alankamony, and the exploits of Sourav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal, have inspired a legion of juniors that has swelled the tally of squash players all over the country like never before.
“For example, we have had a remarkable 600 entries for the sub junior and junior nationals at the CCI, which is a fantastic reflection of the sport’s growing popularity,” explained national coach Cyrus Poncha. “Squash has definitely picked up in India and hopefully, it will get into the Olympics soon. We’ve come a long way, though I must admit, there’s a lot more to be done.”
Poncha believes there are enough facilities in India, but he rues the dearth of top players to compete, along with the need for more coaches, more funding and academies like the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai.
“We still have to take squash to the masses and for that we need more public facilities. Not everyone has access to private clubs like the CCI or the Bombay Gymkhana. So we are trying to develop the sport in all the states,” says Poncha.
Despite the drawbacks, Poncha points out to Alankamony winning the Asian Junior Championship in 2011 and 2012 and is currently No. 6 while Mangaonkar is No. 8 in the world among juniors. India also won the bronze for boys and girls, respectively, in the World Junior Championships and a World Cup silver.
Alankamony has arrived in Mumbai fresh from her maiden title triumph abroad and her second on the women’s professional tour, after winning the Ipswich Open recently where she stunned top seed and world No. 39 Kylie Lindsay of New Zealand.
“That win was a big boost,” says Alankamony. “I am enjoying my game because I don’t feel any pressure. I just love playing squash. Picking up shots is my forte, but it’s not enough. I am thus working on drops and finishing rallies.”
Alankamony admits there is no competition among girls in India but she believes the sport is getting better. The top four girls in the country, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal, Alankamony and Aparajitha Balamurukan will make up the Indian squad that is seeded 10th in the World Women’s Team Championship to be held in France from November 12.
Ranked 117 in the world, Mangaonkar has carved a niche for himself among the boys. He has stealthily worked his way to the top, recently giving the world junior No. 2 from Egypt a scare after going down fighting in a pulsating quarter-final at the world junior championships.
“With so many tournaments in India now, the standard of the juniors is improving,” reveals Mangaonkar, who is currently training under former India No. 1 Ritwik Bhattacharya.
Mangaonkar, who warmed up with Maharashtra State Open and Little Masters titles recently, is in top form and will be hoping to bow out of the under-19 category with a triumph in the ongoing junior nationals, before he steps into the senior ranks next season.