Mahesh Mangaonkar stepped on to the court at the Indian Squash Academy here on Monday with no one to play with.

For Saurav Ghosal, Harinder Pal Sandhu and Dipika Pallikal had just finished their practice session. The 17-year-old diligently played for nearly an hour all alone. Though not the favourite in the 59th senior National squash championships beginning on Wednesday, this will be an important tournament for the Maharashtra lad.

“This is the first time I am seeded in the men's top four. I want to do well. Of course, there is pressure, but I am learning to handle it,” said Mahesh, who has not gone past the quarterfinals of the Nationals.

Six-time champion and the top seed Saurav Ghosal who has been winning the Nationals since 2006 knows there will be stiff challenge from the young brigade and is not ready to take anything lightly. “There are several good players like Mahesh, Hari (Harinder Pal Sandhu). I will have to play very well to win,” said Saurav.

Two-time finalist Dipika Pallikal, the No.1 women's seed, in the absence of Joshna Chinappa, will be eager to bag her maiden title. “I haven't competed in the senior Nationals for the last two years due to international commitments. However, easy or difficult, I will take one match at a time,” said Dipika, ranked a career-high 17 in the world.

Harinder, who lost in the last two finals, will be keen to change things this time around.

“I am feeling good, am injury-free. Hoping for the best,” he said.

Anaka Alankamony, the No. 2 women's seed, must have learnt her lessons after losing to Joshna in the 2009 final. “If all goes to plan, I'll meet Dipika, who is at her peak, in the final,” said the Asian (u-19) champion.

Saurav and Dipika feel that the senior Nationals will be good preparation for the Punj Lloyd Masters in Delhi and WISPA tournament in Hong Kong respectively.

Meanwhile, Arjun Agnihotri (Services), Ashray Ohri (Delhi), Akshay Deepak (TN) and Maninderpal Singh (Chd) qualified for the main draw.

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