Leading women’s squash players, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal, are very much capable of breaking into the top five of the world rankings, believes India’s Egyptian coach Achraf El Karagui.
Both Chinappa and Pallikal have broken the top-10 barrier in the past (they remain the only two Indians to do so) but have been unable to cement their place in the elite club. They are currently ranked 14th and 22nd respectively.
“They definitely have it in them to be in the top five. Joshna is playing better than ever, she is supremely fit. Dipika too is supremely talented and has been working hard of late to improve her fitness,” Karagui told PTI on the sidelines of the Senior Nationals on Friday.
“I see both of them playing for the next five, six years. Dipika mind you is only 25 despite being on the pro tour for a long time. Joshna is 30 and in squash you tend to peak when you are in your 30s. She has been playing brilliant in the last 12 months or so,” said the foreign coach, who has been in India for over an year now.
Results have too come too since Karagui took charge of the senior and junior teams in July last year. Most notable performances came from Chinappa, who made the top 10 for the first time before winning the prestigious Asian Championships earlier this year, and Velavan Senthilkumar, who won the coveted British Junior Open beating compatriot Abhay Singh inthe U-19 final.
According to world number 27 and country’s number one male player, Saurav Ghosal, Indian squash is in the middle of a golden generation. However, Karagui feels a lot more needs to be done and achieved.
“All the leading Indians including Saurav can be world beaters but they must know how to win close matches against the top players. And that’s what I have been focusing on in the last 12 months.
“They have all the strokes in the book but they need to get better at the tactical side of the game. Modern squash is fiercely competitive and you should be able to play in different ways depending on what the situation demands. Like when to attack and when to slow things down,” said Karagui, who is also a chemical engineer.
Karagui, whose contract is extended till 2019, is primarily targeting a pool of 6-7 world class players. And he wants Indians to be world’s best and not just be satisfied with medals at Asian and Commonwealth Games.
“When I came here, I could sense there was a lot of focus on doing well in Asian and Commonwealth Games. But with that approach, you cannot be world beaters. You have to aim to be the best. And that is where I want India to be,” said Karagui.
The Alexandria-based coach cited the example of his own country Egypt in that respect.
“1996 was the time when we changed the structure of squash back home. Our president Hosni Mubarak also played a big role in developing the sport which is now number two after football.
“What changed in 96 was that we created a league structure which covered age groups from 11 to 23. So in every age group, we started grooming players. Initially it was tough but once cycle started running smooth, we began churning out players in a phased way,” he said.
“I am in talks with the federation of creating a similar structure in India. But since it is a huge country, the task will be anything but easy,” Karagui added.