Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu of Mohali who has brought fresh impetus to the Indian squash scene
Winning shots are few and far between in squash — a sport where the hardest of swats often rebound depleted off the wall — and it takes more than just a mad and murderous pounding to gain points. Persistence and consistency also score regularly over flashes of brilliance and unless one has mastered the art of the surprise drop volley, one's only collaborator within the enclosure is one's pair of legs.
Movement in the game fluctuates rapidly between several axial planes. The repeated stop-starts involved also put the knees and back under heavy stress. And when someone arrives who appears easy of carriage and sound of orientation on court, one is forced to take notice.
At the Chennai Open in May last year, a young Sardar with the energy reserves of a distance runner trumped Pakistan's sixth seed Shamsul Islam Khan en route to the quarterfinals. This past month, at the Indian Challenger event in Chennai, the same player gave enough indications that he was ready to take on the big names.
Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu of Mohali is being made out to be the most exciting thing in Indian squash. With Ritwik Bhattacharya's career on the wane, and Saurav Ghosal perpetually inhabiting the mid 30s of the rankings, 19-year-old Sandhu, along with Mumbai wonder boy Siddharth Suchde, has brought fresh impetus to the Indian scene.
Sandhu claimed his second PSA title at the Indian Squash Academy recently, taking out the top two seeds — Egypt's Andrew Wagih Shoukry and Brit James Snell — on the way. Ranked 101 in the latest PSA rankings, he jumped 84 places in 2009, all but fulfilling his dream of cracking the top 100.
“I don't go by the seeding of my opponent. My target is to go hard at every ball, in every game, in every match,” he said courtside after his win.
Currently training under Malcolm Willstrop at the Pontefract Academy in England, Sandhu has followed in the footsteps of Saurav Ghosal, whose stint abroad had also taken his game to another level.
Never giving up
“The European way is to never give up on any ball and always keep it in play. They face every point like it's their last, and that's what Malcolm has tried to instil in me. The local league there helps me test my skill against quality opposition on a regular basis,” he said.
National coach Cyrus Poncha, along with consultant coach Major Maniam, has traced Sandhu's development since his formative squash years at the ISA and is familiar with his fighting style on court. Poncha recounted a match in 2006 when Sandhu came back from 0-2 down against Canada at the World Junior Championship in New Zealand, and won the decisive rubber 3-2.
“Sandhu's game involves a lot of shot making, so cutting down on errors becomes imperative. He is a great fighter too. Once he gets stronger and tighter in his shots, he certainly looks a top 50 player,” Poncha added.
Busy these days grooming a team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Poncha admitted Sandhu had a fair chance of making the Indian men's squad.
“There's still some time to go, but he has been impressive.”