Squash`s Oly exile, success of `Old war horses` made headlines
New Delhi: Squash went through the agony of a third Olympic bid rejection but Indian racqueters, led by Dipika Pallikal, continued to take giant strides globally with quite a few international titles coming their way in an eventful 2013.
`Old war horses` - Pallikal, Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa - kept the tri-colour fluttering in the international squash arena even as a new pedigree of players too complemented the efforts of their senior pros with some inspiring performances on the PSA and WISPA Tour events.
However, the squash fraternity was left heart-broken by the IOC`s decision to choose wrestling ahead of squash as an additional sport to join the 2020 Olympic programme.
Wrestling, one of the rare sports which progressed from ancient to modern Olympics, won the voting at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires with 49 of the 95 votes cast. The joint bid of baseball/softball was second with 24 votes and squash received 22.
This was the third consecutive bid by squash to join the Games and journey to get here had been a long one - 10 years in fact - having failed to get the required two-thirds majority in 2005 in Singapore and 2009 in Denmark.
The Indian squash players, however, put behind that disappointment and continued to make their presence felt world over.
Pallikal clinched the prestigious Macau Open title, her seventh WSA title, in October after notching up a stunning victory against former World number one Rachael Grinham of Australia.
The 22-year-old had reached the final after defeating Rachael`s younger sister Natalie, a former World No.2 and currently ranked eighth in the WSA rankings.
Pallikal also helped the Indian women`s squash team script history in Kuwait by guiding them to their maiden Asian Tour title in May.
In the final of the 16th Asian Team Championship, the experienced duo of Pallikal and Chinappa put paid to the hopes of Hong Kong, blanking them 2-0.
The Indian women`s best performance in the championship was a silver medal at the last edition held in Chennai in 2010.
The men`s team, however, went down 0-2 against arch-foes Pakistan in the summit clash.
Pallikal also had a role to play in India reaching the final of the Chennai Open World Junior Team Cup Championship, which the host nation lost 1-2 against Egypt.
In the Tournament of Champions in New York, the Chennai girl walloped higher-ranked opponents en route her final appearance before losing the title clash against Natalie Grinham of the Netherlands.
Pallikal had created a flutter when she became the first Indian ever to reach the summit clash of a silver event after clinching a three-set thriller against New Zealand`s Jaclyn Hawkes in the semifinals.
The young squash sensation also made headlines on the personal front when she got engaged to Indian cricketer Dinesh Karthik in a private ceremony in Chennai last month.
Leading the pack in the men`s section was India`s No.1 player Saurav Ghosal, who added another feather to his cap by becoming the new `Windy City Open Squash 2012` champion in Chicago.
The victory was all the more sweeter for Ghosal as he defeated Pakistan`s No.2 Yasir Butt in the final. The win at the Windy City was one the biggest PSA titles that Ghosal has won in his career so far.
Ghosal also created history by becoming the first Indian male player to reach the quarterfinal of the World Squash Championship in Manchester where he suffered a straight-game defeat against world number one Ramy Ashour.
The Leeds-based Ghosal also reached the semi-finals of the Montreal Open squash tournament while he also helped the Indian contingent finish seventh in the World Team Squash Championship in France.
Ghosal`s impressive run on the international circuit propelled him to a career-high 15th in the men`s world rankings.
Joshna claimed her maiden WISPA title at home, and sixth overall, when she rallied to beat Sarah Jane Perry 3-1 in the final of the Chennai Open International Squash championship.
She also successfully defended her singles title in the women`s section in the 61st National Squash Championship.
Talking about the emerging set of players, teen sensation Mahesh Mangaonkar became the first Indian squash player to win the IMET Open, the PSA World Tour Challenger 5 event, in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.
Kush Kumar made the whole country proud when he brought home the country`s first gold medal at the second Asian Youth Games after defeating Malaysia`s Mohammad Syafiq Mohd Kamal in the men`s singles competition in Nanjing.
The men`s squash team also settled for a silver after losing their title match against Malaysia.
In the girls` section, rising star Anaka Alankamony was conferred the prestigious Hassan Musa Award for being the most outstanding junior girl in 2011 while she also reached the quarter-finals of the British Open junior squash championship at Sheffield.
Anaka continued her giant-killing spree when she reached the final of the singles event at the 20th Asian Squash Championship in Amman, Jordan. The Indian contingent returned home from the tourney with a rich haul of seven medals.
India also capped off their impressive run in the Women`s World Junior Team Squash Championship with a seventh-place finish, defeating New Zealand 2-1 in the classification match in Wroclaw, Poland.
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