Ahead of sixth Asian Games, Joshna Chinappa finds motivation to excel from Bopanna, Sreejesh | Asian Games 2023 News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: Continuing to compete at a high level in professional sports in one’s late 30s and 40s is an incredible challenge. However, squash veteran Joshna Chinappa draws inspiration to persist when she witnesses athletes like Rohan Bopanna and R Sreejesh defying the effects of age as they approach the twilight of their careers.
Joshna, hailing from Coorg and now at 37 years old, is about to embark on her remarkable sixth appearance at the Asian Games. She originally debuted at the age of 15, which feels like several generations ago, way back in 2002.
On the other hand, Bopanna, aged 43, who recently reached the men’s doubles final at the US Open, and Sreejesh, the stalwart of Indian hockey, will likely be participating in their final Games. Their ability to maintain peak performance in their 40s is truly mind-boggling.
“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 has been around for a 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.”
‘Glad to be back at my best fitness wise’
For athletes in non-Olympic sports like squash, the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games hold a special significance. Joshna is particularly grateful to be in peak physical condition for the upcoming Hangzhou Games, as she has grappled with knee and neck injuries for a significant portion of the year.
Accustomed to consistently ranking in the top 10s and top 20s, Joshna’s reduced playing time due to these injuries has seen her world ranking drop to as low as 70. Remarkably, her younger compatriot, Tanvi Khanna, currently holds a spot one rank ahead of the seasoned Joshna in the latest PSA charts.
These injuries were undoubtedly setbacks for the Chennai-based athlete, but she is now prepared to face the rigorous competition, commencing with the Asian Games, and is determined to work towards improving her rankings on the professional tour.
“I have had a couple of bad injuries in the last 12 months. I got better a couple of weeks back and it is nice to be able to speak 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 the Asian Games.
“My first Games were as a 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 player 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 have 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 harder 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 tricks 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 to 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.
(With PTI inputs)

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