Friday, July 17, 2009

Strokes of success?

From the Hindu

Hard work is the buzzword among the players who are honing their skills for the World Junior Squash Championship to be held in the city later this month

A water pump chugs in the background as a lone painter spruces up the boundary wall of the Indian Squash Academy with long, supple strokes. Inside, an entirely different range of strokes is on display.

“I need to work on my drop shot,” pants 18-year-old Ravi Dixit, who won the Malaysian junior open last month. “But it is going to be a tough field.”

Dixit is referring to the World Junior Squash Championship that starts July end in Chennai. With participants from 28 countries, including Egypt’s defending champion Mohammed El Shorbagy and Asian juniors winner Ivan Yuen, pencilled in for the competition, winning is going to be tough.

Ravi is hopeful that a month-long coaching stint under Malcolm Willstrop in England will further his cause in the event because “exposure to foreign players and techniques is very important at this stage in my career”.

The tournament, that comprises individual events for boys and girls followed by girls’ team matches, will witness top seed Al Shorbagy — ranked in the top 20 of the senior world rankings — attempt to win consecutive boys’ titles.

India’s Dipika Pallikal, a finalist at both the British junior open and Asian junior championship earlier this year, will head the field in the girls’ singles event, her main resistance likely to come from the second seeded Egyptian, Heba El Torky.

National coach Cyrus Poncha watches practice from a chair, occasionally dishing out advice, and admits that India’s focus in the tournament will be the girls’ team event where the country is competing for the first time since finishing fourth in Cairo in 2003. Though Dipika is a direct entry into the Indian team, the other three members are yet to be identified.

“We did not participate in the girls’ event in 2005 and 2007 because our players were very young.

“The team event takes place after the individual one, so other members of the squad will be selected based on form and performance in the singles. Dipika is in Egypt and will join us shortly. The others have started to practice…our emphasis is on footwork and keeping the ball in play,” Poncha says.

The event also marks a landmark change in that, henceforth, individual events for boys and girls would be conducted on an annual basis, unlike the biannual pattern in place till last year. The team events will be conducted alternately.

Consultant coach Major (Retd.) S. Maniam, who had been taking this issue up with the World Squash Federation for almost a decade, is pleased with the move.

“I know so many players who had a strong chance of being junior champions, but they couldn’t compete at their peak, i.e. when they turned 18 there was no tournament scheduled for that year. And the next year, when the tournament would be held, the player would have turned 19 and overage.

“If you’re 15 and want to win the junior title, you should have a few clear shots at it. An annual event will give younger players more chances for that,” he concludes.


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