After a seven-month injury lay-off, Joshna Chinappa is back in the limelight, clinching the WISPA title in the Chennai Open women’s tournament
“You seem to have lost quite a few kilos?,” I ask Joshna Chinappa, after she clinched her first WISPA title — sixth overall — in her hometown in the Chennai Open women's squash tournament that concluded last week. “No,” she replies. “In fact, I have put on six kilos.”
Returning after a seven-month injury lay-off has made Joshna a completely different player. In August, last year, competing in the Hamptons Open (Southampton, New York), Joshna had to concede her semifinal match midway against Samantha Cornett, after she fell and injured her right knee.
The nine-time National women's champion then underwent a painful surgery at MIOT Hospital. The rehab process at the Otters Club in Mumbai from September to March 2012, with former India No.1 player Ritwik Bhattacharya and physio Ahmed Yousuf, she emphasises, made her look at the sport differently.
“It was a refreshing atmosphere in Mumbai. I had a good team with me to practise. I have toned my muscles after intensive weight training at the gym. That's why I look thinner. Going to Mumbai is one of the best decisions in life,” says Joshna.
Cyrus Poncha, National team coach, feels Joshna's achievement is fabulous. “She seems determined to perform. We are proud of her,” he says.
Affinity for Chennai
Having learnt the basics of the sport in Chennai, Joshna has a special affinity for the city. Not being able to bag a WISPA crown rankled her, especially after having been in the final twice earlier in the metropolis.
She lost to Orla Noom of The Netherlands in the final of the WISPA Indian Challenger three years ago, and in 2011, bowed out to a higher ranked Donna Urquhart of Australia. Joshna admits to playing under pressure. “Earlier, I was instinctive. Now, I go prepared for the match knowing the strengths and limitations of my opponent. I appreciate my game a lot more. I am just happy to be playing,” says Joshna, who was ranked a career-high 28 in the world in June 2010.
Joshna has always been wary of the Egyptians. She never lets her guard down no matter who she plays with, as she knows even a lesser-ranked player could pull off a win. Such is their talent. “It's like cricket in India. Everybody is competitive,” Joshna says.
Seeded two in the Chennai Open, Joshna overcame two players from Egypt — Nouran Ahmed Gohar in the first round and Salma Hany Ibrahim Ahmed in the semifinals. “I don't relish playing against them,” she confesses.
Joshna did experience pain on and off in the knee during the tournament, but typical of the gritty lady, who is known for her fighting abilities, she overcame them with grace and equanimity. “I am sure I will get back to cent per cent fitness soon,” she says.
The 25-year-old, ranked 71 in the world, says if not for the coaching she received from Cyrus Poncha, Maj. Maniam, Hari Om Tripathi, Balamurugan and Gautham Das at the Indian Squash Academy and her mentor Malcolm Willstrop (based in England), her game would not have improved.
Joshna says her focus, at the moment, is not on rankings, but quality of the game. “I want to play quality squash; that's my priority,” she signs off.