Indian women face tough challenge in defending Asian title

Hong Kong: The Dipika Pallikal-led Indian team will have to play out of its skins to defend the women`s title while the men`s outfit, headed by Saurav Ghosal, looks in good shape to win its maiden crown at the Asian Squash Championships beginning here tomorrow.

The trio of Pallikal, Joshana Chinappa and Anaka Alankamony made history in the tournament`s last edition in 2012, when it surprised Hong Kong to ensure India`s first title in the premier continental event.

The women, seeded second, are in Group B and face formidable hosts Hong Kong in their opening match on Thursday. The other teams in the pool are China, Pakistan and Iran while Group B consists of top seeds Malaysia, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

World No.10 Pallikal is a better player than what she was two years ago and 21st-ranked Chinappa returning to top form augurs well for the team. The home side having Annie Au (World No.9) and Joey Chan (21) pose a big challenge for the Indians but their biggest test will be against the Malaysians, who have the legendary Nicol David in their ranks.

The Indian men, on the other hand, are aiming to match the women`s feat after finishing runners-up to Pakistan in 2012. They had endured a similar result in the tournament`s opening edition in 1981.

The Indians go into the competition as top seeds, thanks to the presence of Ghosal, currently the Asia No.1 and World No. 16. He will be supported by longtime teammate Harinder Pal Sandhu (80) and 20-year-old Mahesh Mangaonkar.

They are placed in Group A and start their campaign against Iran tomorrow. The other teams in their pool are Qatar and Philippines. Sixteen teams have been divided in groups of four each.

"Malaysia, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Kuwait are all strong teams. Having said that, we are going for the trophy. It is important that I win all my matches," Ghosal told PTI.

Asked about his teammates, he said: "Mahesh is still young but has been playing well of late.

Harry (Sandhu) has had a bit of an inconsistent season but I am sure he will bounce back here. All of us must stick together and produce our best."

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