The significance of India’s first ever won by Joshana Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal in women’s doubles, at the Commonwealth Games goes beyond just adding to the total medals amassed by the contingent. For the sport altogether, the achievement explored unchartered territory as no Indian squash player had graced the CWG podium before Saturday.
But rather than basking in the glory, the duo has already set their sights on the road ahead. Chinappa realises that the top-of-the-podium finish at Glasgow will raise expectations but she has tempered down expectations from next month’s Asian Games, saying the level of competition will be much higher in Incheon. “It’s going to be quite tough. We have plenty of players from the top 25 playing. Hopefully, I can play well enough and win an individual medal,” she says.
Unlike their CWG record, Indian players have won four bronze medals at the Asian Games, two by Saurav Ghosal in the men’s singles, and and one each in the men and women’s team events. More crucially from India’s point of view, the doubles events – considered to the country’s forte — are not included at the Asian Games.
However, former national champion Ritwick Bhattacharya asserts that the achievements in Glasgow will do well to push the players. “Now that they have tasted victory, they will know what to do,” he says. “Joshana and Dipika won their doubles, and Saurav reached the semifinals in the men’s singles, so their confidence will be high and that will make a big difference,” he adds.
Bhattacharya, who became the country’s first squash player to feature at the CWG back in 2002 insisted that the Indian contingent has a better chance of winning a medal in South Korea than they did in Scotland. “Plenty of the highly ranked players are from non-Asian countries. So they won’t be there and our seedings will be quite high,” he says.
Correspondingly, the seedings according to the game’s governing body places Ghosal as the highest ranked Asian among the men, while Pallikal and Chinappa come in fourth and fifth respectively among the women. “Even though we don’t have England or Australia, the players from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Pakistan have always been quite good. Pakistan has good depth in the men’s game. They’ve always been at the top in the Asian Games. But now we have the momentum going. Our players are very close and so that single medal works well for them all,” Bhattacharya adds.
For Chinappa, the medal stands more than just a symbol for the CWG win. The 27-year-old sees gold medal win as a sign for a successful recovery. Three seasons ago, the 12-time national champion suffered from ligament damage in her right knee. The recovery phase required surgery, effectively leaving her on the sidelines for over six months.
But there are fresher memories Chinappa lays more focus on. The fondest was the expressions of relief on her teammate Mahesh Mangaonkar’s face. The 20-year-old had taken to Twitter to announce that he will run 10 court laps in just his underwear should India not win a doubles medal. “I’d say he was probably the happiest when we won,” Chinappa laughs.