Fifteen-year-old Anahat Singh ends 12-year-long wait for new women’s national squash champion

When Anahat Singh and Tanvi Khanna, the top two seeds, faced each other in the women’s final of the 79th National Squash Championships at the Indian Squash and Triathlon Academy in Chennai on Thursday, a close contest was anticipated.

Entering the summit clash, both players had quite a few things in common – Delhi girls, no games dropped so far and members of the bronze medal-winning Hangzhou Asian Games women’s squad which featured Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal. Both had also finished runner-up at Senior Nationals in the last two editions (Khanna in 2020 and Anahat in 2022) with defeats to Chinappa in the finals.

The big talking point could have been the massive age gap – Anahat is 15 while Khanna is 12 years older and much more experienced. But Anahat had proved last year that she is a generational talent by making it to the Commonwealth Games squad.

With Chinappa and Pallikal both deciding to skip this year’s Nationals, a new champion was guaranteed for the first time since the latter won her maiden crown in 2011.

“I am mainly just excited. I’m really young. So, I don’t think there is that much pressure going into the match. I am excited to play and hopefully get the title,” said Anahat, on the eve of the final.

As expected, Khanna proved to be the toughest test for her. Khanna’s deceptive style – setting up the points with straight drives and finishing with perfectly timed drop shots – forced Anahat to make mistakes. Trailing 7-10 in the opener, Anahat saved the first game ball with a backhand kill before being awarded a stroke at the end of the next rally. Nevertheless, Khanna converted her third game ball with a crosscourt winner and wrapped up the opener 11-9.

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Khanna clinched the first two points of the second game as well before Anahat won five on the trot and seemed to be finally finding her feet. Khanna closed the gap to 4-5 before the unfortunate incident happened.

Midway through the next rally, Khanna hit a crosscourt volley but went too deep into the right corner at the back of the court. She rushed to retrieve a backhand volley from Anahat, struck slightly over the service line and close to the left side wall, but stopped abruptly to avoid a collision near the half court line and ended up slipping awkwardly.

As soon as she fell down, she immediately clutched her right knee. Hobbling, she somehow exited the glass court but could not recover in three minutes – the maximum time allowed for such mid-match injuries. She first conceded the second game and when the 90-second interval before the beginning of the third wasn’t enough either, ended up retiring from the contest.

The 27-year-old Khanna could not recover in three minutes – the maximum time allowed for such mid-match injuries. The top seed, who took a closely fought opening game 11-9, first conceded the second game. A 90-second interval before the beginning of the third wasn’t enough either and she ended up retiring from the contest.

In August of 2021, Khanna had twisted her left leg but continued to play against compatriot Sunayna Kuruvilla in the final of a Professional Squash Association (PSA) event in Noida. While she managed to win the title, the decision to play with discomfort made her miss most of the 2022 season due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear in the left knee. Perhaps, that forced Khanna to stop on Thursday and avoid further damage.

Anahat became the second youngest winner in the history of the Senior Nationals. Chinappa had won the first of a record 19 titles at the age of 14 in 2000.

“There’s that board up there around the glass court which has all the winners’ names. That’s something that always goes into my head when I think about winning and I have always dreamed of my name being up there on that board,” the teenager had said a day before the final.

While Anahat did admit that she wanted to seal the title ‘the proper way’ at the conclusion of the event, mid-match injuries resulting in retirements are an unfortunate but common sight in the world of sport.

A national title at the age of 15, under the tutelage of a former World No. 40 in Italy’s Stephane Galifi, reflects the rapid progress Anahat continues to make. Exciting times are ahead for Indian squash.

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