India's squash stars sign off with gold and silver
Dipika Pallikal and Harinder Pal Singh bagged the mixed team gold while Saurav Ghosal was outplayed by Malaysia's Eain Yow in the singles final
Dipika Pallikal and Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu showed there's enough left in their legs and lungs, prevailing over Asian powerhouses Malaysia to win the mixed doubles crown at the Hangzhou Olympics Centre Squash Court on Thursday. Pallikal and Sandhu beat Aifa Binti Azman and Mohammad Syafiq 2-0 (11-10, 11-10) in a little over half an hour.
The match, as the scoreline suggests, was a closely-fought affair with the Malaysians holding game points in both games but the top-seeded Indians used their experience to seize the clutch points and win the event (which was being played at the Asian Games for the first time), stunning a vocal Malaysian support in the arena.
Azman and Syafiq were up 10-8 in the first game and 10-9 in the second, but the Indians wriggled out on both occasions to secure the gold. In the second game, the Indians were up 9-3 at one stage but the Malaysians went on a seven-point spree to take a 10-9 lead, but the Indians found another gear to survive and thrive.
Pallikal and Sandhu were seen in an animated on-court discussion following which they intensified attacks in the front court, using drop shots to great effect.
“It’s a complete blur now. Harry and I remember only one thing which is the last point that we won. It was tough in the end,” said Pallikal, who was the first Indian to break into the top-10 in PSA women’s world rankings in December 2012.
Sandhu, 34, credited his partner for some on-court coaching that helped the pair ward off the danger. "It was crazy out there and we needed to stay positive in that situation," he said. "It wasn’t a great sight to see the lead being lost. I wasn’t doing well on the court. It was like a kid going to school. When a kid loses track, the teacher comes in and she is always there in your ears. Dipika did that job very well. She put me back on track. I am happy that we could finish it off on a high note.”
Speaking about her camaraderie with Sandhu, Pallikal said, “We have grown up together. Being squash players, you are always hanging out with each other during training and tournaments. We try to make memories together. So, for both of us, it was special to win India's first-ever mixed doubles title. It just turned out to be an unbelievable tournament for us.”
The medals completed a golden set for the 32-year-old Pallikal following her top finishes at the World Doubles Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Pallikal's maiden Asiad gold comes in her fourth appearance -- she had five Asiad medals before Thursday -- an indicator of her tenacity and longevity. "Wow, you guys are making me feel old," she remarked when reminded of the statistics.
Palliakal had earlier combined with Joshna Chinappa, Anahat Singh, and Tanvi Khanna to win the team bronze in Hangzhou.
Later, Saurav Ghosal went down to Malaysia's Eain Yow Ng 1-3 (11-9, 9-11, 5-11, 7-11) in the men's final that lasted 72 minutes. Ghosal, the 37-year-old torchbearer of Indian squash showed his wristy prowess and nimble footedness in the opening game but as the match progressed, the younger challenger tested the Indian with his deft shot-making and relentless retrieving.
The match seemed to have turned in the Malaysian's favour in the third game with Yow running to an 8-5 lead after being tied at 5-all. Yow then engaged Ghosal in lengthy rallies and occasional drop shots, the two instances of a tired Ghosal missing his shots standing out.
"It is difficult to analyse the match right now. Things unravelled a little bit from the middle of the second game. They didn’t go my way. Sometimes weird things happen. I tried to deal with it as best as I could. I know I played some very good squash, started off a lot better but couldn’t respond when needed the most,” he said.
“I had a period of about 2-3 minutes where I got 3-4 straight points in a row but weren’t allowed (by the referee). As players, we try to deal with the situation. The Malaysian was a quality player and made the best use of his chances.”
"For me, personally, that was the one medal I really wanted. I put everything on the line. I don’t know if I am going to have another shot at it or not. But right now, I am super sad and disappointed. I have to admit this was perhaps my best chance to win the gold. It is a case of gold and history missed. In 2014, I lost the gold by one point, so it is tough to say which loss hurts more,” Ghosal added.
A veteran of five Asian Games who has medalled in each Asiad, Ghosal desisted from taking a call on his future but said he would be proud of his effort if Hangzhou turns out to be his last dance. "I guess if this is the last one (Asiad), then I can be super proud of the fact that I gave it everything. I don’t think I could have given more," he said.