After a year or so off-court following a knee injury, Joshna Chinappa is back to doing what she loves best — playing squash. The former national champion says her focus is now on fitness and participating in more tournaments

Grit and patience… these are the key factors behind any sportsperson’s achievements. Joshna Chinappa, former national squash champion, is a prime example of this. Having seen the highs and the lows of competitive squash, she’s now keen on a career that’s on an upward trajectory — one that is as satisfying as it is productive. Currently she has touched her career best rank of 25.

There was a time, not long ago, when this Chennai girl had the distinction of being almost invincible. None in India could match her. Reaching the final of the World junior singles was the highest level of achievement as a junior. And when she completed her graduation from Ethiraj College and decided to pursue squash seriously, her only aim was to “keep playing as long as I enjoy myself, let’s see what comes of it all later.”

No sacrifice too big

She had no hassles about following a strict diet, besides regular visits to the gym and being away from home and parents. Nothing seemed like too big a sacrifice. But somehow her progress never seemed as fluent as during her junior days. The transition was not easy.

But then, Joshna was always a star when she played under the country’s banner in Continental competitions. The senior pro knew her strengths and was a source of encouragement to her colleagues. Yet the highest she went in terms of the WSA ranking was 28, a number long surpassed by her friend and rival Dipika Pallikal, who at 15 is the highest ranked Indian in the professional circuit. As luck would have it, a little over a year ago, in a tournament, Joshna sprained her right knee so badly that she knew the worst had happened. Medical tests confirmed her fears: a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery and rehabilitation followed and that meant nearly 10 months off the professional circuit and her ranking tumbling to 71!

But then Joshna’s confidence was not something that would fall apart easily. Grit is her other name, and true to it, she clawed back. Her comeback story began at the Otters club where physical training and sparring sessions restored her to fighting fitness. Thanks to former national champion and good friend, Ritwik Bhattacharya, Joshna could get quality playing time at the club. Then followed a training stint at the Indian Squash Academy, Chennai, where National Coach Cyrus Poncha and Consultant Maj (retd) S. Maniam along with a host of other coaches and players offered help. In London, she was ably guided by Malcolm Willstrop. Suffice to say, Joshna was back to winning or at least was in a position to make an impression. The ten-odd tournaments she took part in proved satisfying; she even won one — the Chennai Open.

Mantra for the future

“To stay fit and keep improving” is her mantra for the future. “If I keep myself fit and remain that way, I am sure my ranking will take care of itself,” Joshna responded to a query on what her aims are for the year ahead. Still she is not averse to revealing what her goal is: to be in the top 12 by year-end. Just a little over 26 now, Joshna believes her best days are still coming. Can the former World junior runner-up rise up to expectations? Only time will tell but, as of now, her focus is on the tournaments ahead, including the prestigious British Open.