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Ahead Of Sixth Asian Games, Chinappa Joshna Finds Motivation To Excel From Rohan Bopanna, PR Sreejesh

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New Delhi, Sept 21 (PTI) Playing and performing in your late 30s and 40s is incredibly hard in professional sport but squash veteran Joshna Chinappa finds the motivation to carry on when she sees the likes of Rohan Bopanna and P R Sreejesh defying age in the twilight of their careers.

The 37-year-old from Coorg will be making a “mind boggling” sixth appearance at the Asian Games, having made her debut as a 15-year-old “generations” ago in 2002.

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The 43-year-old Bopanna, who recently made the men’s doubles final at the US Open, and hockey custodian Sreejesh will also be probably playing their farewell Games.

“Bops is a legend. I have known him for almost 20 years as we come from the same place in Coorg. I heard he was retiring and I messaged him saying ‘you are playing your best tennis now, why would you retire?’. Then he said he was only retiring from Davis Cup (laughs),” Joshna told PTI.

“He is doing his best in the later stages of his career, it is so inspirational. Same with Sreejesh (35), who is more of my age and been around for long.

“I have seen him play and it seems he is still in his 20s. All of this is inspiring as I know what it takes to be fit and strong at this age.”

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Glad to be back at my best fitness wise

Asian Games and Commonwealth Games have more significance for athletes from non-Olympic sports like squash, and Joshna is glad to be back at her physical best for the Hangzhou Games, having dealt with knee and neck injuries for the major part of the year.

Used to being in the top10s and top20s, the lack of game time due to injuries has pushed Joshna back to as low as 70 in the world rankings. The much younger Tanvi Khanna is a spot ahead of her seasoned teammate in the latest PSA charts.

The injuries were a definite setback for the Chennai-based athlete but she is now ready for the grind starting with the Asian Games before turning focus on improving her rankings on the professional tour.

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“I have had a couple of bad injuries the last 12 months. I got better couple of weeks back and it is nice to be able to freely.

“From being 15 and 16 in the world to (dropping to 70), it has been tough as you don’t get into big tournaments (direct entry). That is what sport is. That is what life is sometimes and you have to override the challenges, the main goal was to be fit for Asian Games.

“My first Games were as 15-year-old. It feels like a lifetime and generation of athletes ago. To be here after these years is mindboggling for me,” she said a day before her departure for China with the Indian squash contingent.

India’s number one male player Saurav Ghosal too would be competing in his sixth Asian Games. Both have an elusive singles gold to win but Joshna is not thinking on those lines.

“I am not looking at any of that. We are playing some of the best players in the world. We have team events first and then the individuals,” said Joshna who will have to match the energy and endurance levels of younger rivals from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Japan.

“They are all in their 20s, I am the veteran there. It is a testament to the fact that both of us (Saurav and I) are still here wanting to give our best for India. To play at this age has its set of challenges but it is such a privilege to play for the country.”

The players are much fitter than they were a decade ago, raising the quality of squash and making rallies longer. For an experienced played like Joshna, getting old has a few positives too.

“Experience matters a lot. The younger lot is keen, hungry and quick. It is a fast paced game. That is why we have to train a lot smarter to combat that on court.

“I train with the mindset that I am going to play a top 10 player at any given time. As you get older you got to be smart about your training. You can’t train the way you used to train in your in 20s.

“You know your body a lot better and what works for you. There is surely more clarity about what you need to do against a particular opponent. I probably train tougher than in my 20s, and my body is better.

“Having said that the recovery process has gotten much longer,” said Joshna who learned a few trick of the trade of sailing through the late 30s from former world number ones Gregory Gaultier and James Willstrop in the Asian Games camp in Chennai.

Not looking too far ahead

The next Asian Games is three years away but following an injury-ridden year, Joshna prefers not looking too far ahead.

“Three four years is so far. Before CWG I was playing  some of the best squash in my life and then I got injured and put me off track quite a bit. You can do the best you can and prepare well but anything can slow you down. It has taught me look after my body and not plan well in advance.”

Joshna goes into the Games having won three team medals and a singles bronze. She has never won a gold at the continental event and if not that, she is surely a podium contender in both team and singles events.

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