First time Asian champions crowned in “hot” fashion
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Max Lee of Hong Kong and India’s Joshana Chinappa were crowned Asian for the first time today at the Express Avenue Mall in Chennai, India amidst boiling temperatures as the air conditioning did not seem to be working (according to people at the venue). Interestingly, all finalists are first time finalists in the event, so there was plenty to play for.
Max conquers his bogey event
Despite being in the world’s top 20 since December 2014, the Asian Individual Championships seem to be an event which Max Lee had never done well before, having never progressed beyond the quarter-finals before this.
The 29 year old finally put his bogey event to rest by preventing an Indian double after he came from a game down to take out local favourite Saurav Ghosal 3-1 in just over an hour. Both the players have been ranked closely in the last few years, hovering around the 15-20 bracket and this was a match that could go either way.
Playing on home ground, it was the 30-year old Indian who drew first blood and took it 11-5, before Max came back to level the score 11-4. The third and fourth was much closer, but it was the Hong Kong player who played the bigger points well enough to win on each occasion and ensure the title stays in Hong Kong, after Leo Au had won it in 2015.
“I wasn’t even thinking beyond the quarter-finals when I was coming here, so to reach the final and to actually win, it feels great.”
“There’s pressure on you as the top seed, and having so many people watching, supporting your opponent makes it tough. But it’s a great atmosphere and it’s what squash needs,” said the newly crowned Asian champion.
Joshana keeps her focus and clinches it
With Nicol David opting out of the event and top seed Annie Au ousted, there was plenty to play for in the final today. Joshana Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik are both first time finalist, and the first Indian finalists in 21 years since Misha Grewal in 1996.
The final between the top two Indian ladies was bound to be an explosive affair, with the pair infamous for their bust up during the 2014 Asian Games. While they may have made amends after that, there was certainly a lot of tension in the match today.
The first three games were intensely close, with all three going to the tie break. Dipika took the first and blew her chances to go two-up when she had game ball at 10-9 in the second. In the third, it was Joshana who had game ball first but Dipika responded with two shots into the nick to go game ball up herself and subsequently finishing it off for the lead.
By the start of the fourth, Dipika was not moving as swiftly and it was evident she was tired. It was a quick affair, with Johana going from 4-0 to 9-3 and then winning 10-5.
Things were not much better in the fifth for Dipika, who literally started with a bang as she ran straight into Joshana before crashing down and asking for an injury break. Even after returning to court, she was more interested going for the player than the ball, something which the referees should’ve controlled a lot better.
While the video commentator said in the end it was one of the best ever Asian Championships final, I certainly beg to differ given the way the last two games went.
But credit to Joshana as she remains focussed, kept her composure and not get drowned into the physical game. She hung in there and won the stroke-laden game 11-4, after which she threw her racket down in delight.
New stars in the making
Throughout the event, we saw some notable results that surprised many. It is a welcoming result to see – apart from whoever is on the losing end of course. But two players who stood out most has to be teenagers Satomi Watanabe of Japan and Malaysia’s Aifa Azman.
Satomi Watanabe – The Japanese teenager joined her illustrious compatriot Misaki Kobayashi in the last eight after she took out top Malaysian lady Rachel Arnold, the event’s 8th seed. Her being in the last eight also meant a first for Japan to have two quarter-finalists in the event. Having based in Malaysia for some years, Rachel and her have had quite a few meetings and this was the first time Satomi had come out tops. She subsequently lost in the quarters to top seed Annie Au who was way too sharp on the day.
Aifa Azman – The 15 year old Malaysian reached the last sixteen after upsetting 9th seeded Indian Sachika Ingale in the second round. Having taken a 2-0 lead, she allowed Sachika back into the match to draw level, and in the fifth, she was facing match ball at 7-10, but manages to regroup to win 13-11. In the next round, she gave experienced Japanese Misaki Kobayashi a run for her money before going down 3-1.
There was also an encouraging sight as Philippines, who have recently undergone a squash revival of a sort, to have sent a big contingent to the event. A total of four men and two ladies took part, with Jemyca Aribado reaching the last 16 of the ladies event and Robert Garcia winning the men’s Consolation event.
Notable entries also came from Singapore, Bahrain, Iran and Nepal. It is certainly welcoming to see more participation from more countries in the region. However, there was also a notable nation missing in Pakistan, who withdrew all their players after failing to obtain visas to travel into India.
It would have also been nice to see Indonesia and Thailand, both active playing nations, to participate in the years to come.
Asian Championship 2017, Express Avenue Mall, Chennai, India.
Max Lee (HKG) bt Saurav Ghosal (IND) 5-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-7 (61m)
Joshana Chinappa (IND) bt Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) 13-15, 12-10, 11-13, 11-4, 11-4 (78m)
Full results available on www.squashinfo.com
Pictures by Steve Cubbins and India Squash