India's golden generation of squash ready for one last dance at Asian Games
Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal, synonymous with Indian squash over the past two decades, have unfinished business going into what could be their last appearance at the Asian Games.
Ghosal and Joshna, who both turned 37 recently, will be featuring in their sixth Asian Games, a testament to their remarkable longevity in a physically demanding sport like squash.
A week way from celebrating her 32nd birthday, Dipika will be entering her fourth and in all probability last Asian Games. The mother of two, who doesn't play singles anymore, will be eyeing a mixed doubles gold alongside Harinder Pal Sandhu in Hangzhou.
Ghosal and Joshna too are in the twilight or their careers and Hangzhou could be their one final chance to add a singles gold to the rich medal count at the continental event, having won seven and four medals respectively since their maiden outing in 2002.
Though the level at Asian Games is not as high as the Commonwealth Games, the job for Ghosal and Joshna will be far from easy.
Ghosal targets elusive singles gold
The psychological wounds of a heartbreaking loss in the men's singles final at the 2014 Incheon edition remain fresh in Ghosal's mind as the veteran athlete goes into the Games once again as the favourite for the gold medal.
Leading 2-0 and a match ball in the third game, he had the gold very much in sight until Abdullah Al Muzayen from Kuwait bounced back from nowhere to stage a winning comeback.
Ghosal is not bitter about that loss but remains determined to win the gold.
"When I started back then, never thought I would go on to play in six Asian Games. Representing India has been the biggest honour.
"In terms of highs and lows, the biggest high was 2014 when we won the team gold for the first time and biggest low was also the 2014 silver.
"Winning the first bronze in 2006 will always be special. The gold is obviously the target this time as I have not done it yet," said Ghosal, who won a historic bronze in Commonwealth Games last year.
The Indian is seeded second in the singles behind Malaysia's Eain Yow Ng, an opponent 12 years younger to him. Ghosal, who is currently the highest-ranked player in Asia at 17, will also need to be wary of his rivals from Pakistan, Kuwait and Hong Kong. Abdullah, the 2014 gold medallist, is also part of the draw.
Ghosal is drawn to meet world number 19 Yow in the final and if that does happen, he will go into the contest high on confidence having beaten the much younger Malaysian in five games in Paris last month.
Can Joshna go all the way too?
While Ghosal has had a steady run ahead of the Games, Joshna goes into the competition following an injury-marred year that saw the former world number 10 drop to as low as 71 in the PSA rankings. In fact, Tanvi Khanna is now the highest ranked Indian woman at 70.
Having regained full fitness ahead of the mega event, Joshna will have a point to prove and change the colour of the singles medal she secured in Jakarta five years ago. The bronze in the 2018 edition was her first in singles event, following her three medals in team events.
Her main rivals in the competition include top seed Satomi Watanbe of Japan and Ho Tze Lok of Hong Kong.
Joshna may not have had the best of year leading up to the Games but trust her to bring her A game to the fore, like she had done in the 2018 edition when she stunned eight-time world champion Nicol David in the team events to script a silver for India.
Dipika favourite for mixed doubles gold
Dipika and her mixed doubles partner Sandhu had the opportunity to take part in the Asian Games test event in Hangzhou three months ago and they made the most of it by winning the gold.
Training at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai under the eyes of former world champions Gregory Gaultier and James Willstrop, the Indian duo is giving finishing touches to its preparation.
The Games are expected to be Dipika's swansong and she is giving her all on the training front to make it a memorable affair.
India ended with five medals in Jakarta (four bronze and one silver) and they are looking to better that performance in China.