Sunday, July 14, 2024

Sandhu sinks Saurav to win first Indian title

Ghosal’s first defeat in nine years as Joshna Chinappa aims for women’s record
By Squash Mad Reporter

Indian champions Harinder Pal Sandhu and Joshna Chinappa
Indian champions Harinder Pal Sandhu and Joshna Chinappa

Mumbai: Playing an attacking brand of squash, Harinder Pal Sandhu shocked defending champion and 13-time winner Saurav Ghosal to clinch his maiden men’s title in the Senior Nationals at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai.

Third seed Sandhu looked in top form as he took a commanding 2-0 lead and was 6-2 up in the third when Ghosal, ranked 18th in the world, led a comeback to take the third and fourth games and forced a decider.

However, Sandhu, ranked 60th in the world, fought his way back from 7-9 in the fifth game to draw level at 9-all and then took the last two points in style to complete a memorable 11-2 11-9 9-11 8-11 11-9 victory in 74 minutes.

Best buddies: Harinder and Saurav
Best buddies: Harinder and Saurav

Ghosal trailed 1-5 and 2-6 in the third game and it looked like curtains before he upped his game and made Sandhu run around. After catching up at 7-all, he led 8-7 for the first time in the match and then led 10-8 before a stroke call against his rival helped him win the game after he conceded one more point.

Ghosal trailed 2-6 in the fourth game too, before he caught up with his rival again and then surged ahead to win the game and force the decider.

The defending champion, who has lost only to Ritwik Bhattacharya nine years ago in the Nationals and was gunning for his 10th straight title, was once again left behind by his hard-stroking rival who led 9-5 before again making a comeback to level at 9-all.

But, this time Sandhu made a determined effort and beat his rival with a back hand drop in the left corner of the court and then uncorked a stinging backhand winner at championship-ball that brooked no reply to win the crown.

“This is a dream come true for me. And to beat Saurav, who has been the number one for so long, is a great feeling. I have worked very hard for this. I decided to stay calm and not be hyper-active,” said Sandhu.

Joshna, on the other hand, strolled to her 13th title and then said her aim is to better Bhuwaneshwari Kumari’s record 16 titles.

“I want to better Candy’s record. I won my first title as a 14-year-old in 2001,” she added.

It was not only the Chandigarh-born, Chennai-based Sandhu’s maiden national title but it also came after he registered his first-ever win over his close friend, Kolkata-born Ghosal.

Ghosal said, “He played superbly and if at all it had to happen I am happy it happened against him as he?s my best friend.”

The women’s final, in total contrast, was a tame affair as title holder Joshna Chinnappa brushed aside the challenge from Sachika Ingale 11-3 11-3 11-6 in only 22 minutes to clinch her 13th title in 14 finals, her only loss coming against now-retired Mekhla Subedar in 2011.

The men’s final was a classy affair between the long-time number one India player and his strongest challenger, and gave an indication that Ghosal faces quite a battle to stay at the top.

Sandhu, who flew out after the final to take part in the Asian Beach Games in Thailand, looked unstoppable in the first game as he took a 10-0 lead before Ghosal earned his first point.

The younger rival jumped to a 4-0 and 7-2 lead in the second before Ghosal, who had won the Asian Games team gold at Incheon with his opponent, fought his way back.

The lead was narrowed to 8-10 before Sandhu won it to take a 2-0 lead.




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