Anahat Singh: Little big star a new hope for Indian squash
Commonwealth Games 2022: 14-year-old Anahat Singh came giggling to the court when she was first introduced. She is in the spotlight as the 'baby of the Indian contingent', but her young shoulders carry a lot of expectations already.
Birmingham is where Delhi girl Anahat Singh first drew international attention three years ago as an up-and-coming bright squash talent. She had won the U-11 title in the British Junior Open (later the U-13 too), one of the prestigious international events in squash.
It is again here in the 2022 Commonwealth Games that this redoubtable talent has returned as the youngest member of the Indian contingent.
Just 14 years and trading her skills with senior and professional players cannot be easy. Yet the plucky girl made it past the first round in the singles event before an experienced opponent Emily Whitlock stopped her in the next round. But not before Anahat had plucked a game from her tough world ranked 19 Wales opponent.
She would have picked some valuable lesson from that encounter and that would stand her in good stead as she gets ready for tougher challenges before long. The first of which will be the Women's Doubles Round of 32 match on Thursday.
A fully supportive mother, Tani Vadhera Singh, who herself is in Birmingham but not in the Games village, did not seem upset that Anahat lost her Singles tie.
"She played with lot of grit and at one time points were neck and neck," she said with a touch of pride.
Mrs Singh is happy that her child was mingling well with the seniors and enjoying her stint staying on her own.
"For me the biggest gain I see for her is that she is able to mix with the seniors, which could not happen back in India because every player was busy and not available at one common point. It thrilled her when she could actually spar with her senior Joshna Chinappa, talk to her and others. I am sure this is the best experience in her squash life thus far," she said.
A promised hope for Indian squash
It is just amazing how some talents come up. A few years ago it was Anaka Alankamony, who had caught the eye as the next squash sensation from the way she displayed her skills as a pupil of the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai. Such was the way she had picked up the rudiments and employed them skilfully in her game that even the man known for his eye for talent, Maj S. Manian, the Malaysian Coach attached then to the ISA, predicted the rise of a great squash player.
Anaka did not take long to grab a few international titles that matter in squash, including a list of junior Asian titles. It had seemed too good to be true.
It is a different matter that the call of studies subsequently saw her leave the country, but for a few precious years, Anaka brought a freshness into Indian squash which made her special.
Strains of that Chennai girl's huge talent is now visible in this wisp of a girl that Anahat is.
With an elder sister Amira, a squash player herself, as company, Anahat's visits to squash courts were not rare. That's when her interest in squash took roots, even if it was badminton that had caught her imagination initially - strengthened further by the exploits of P.V. Sindhu and perhaps also Saina Nehwal.
Even now her mother says, it was her first coach (badminton) Vikash Sharma who mentors her. It was to him that she would pour out her performances and the advice she would always get was "ensure you keep the country's flag flying high."
She loves badminton but as she was to say, it was squash that excited her! Perhaps it was the speed of the rallies or the swift movements on the court. Something told her this was her sport.
A worthy successor
As she is proving now with her rich exploits already, Anahat is turning an asset to the squash world, certainly one for India. She has a basketful of national level titles, including national championships aside from international tournament wins, the latest being the Asian U-15 crown.
The Delhi girl has also much to thank the Squash Rackets Federation of India which has laid out a healthy domestic circuit to give players like her competition experience and opportunities to hone the skills. The High performance camps under the HCL podium programme, where expert coaches from abroad come and Government support have all played their role in strengthening her resolve and make her ready for the grind ahead.
At a time when seniors like Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, who have done so much to keep the Indian flag flying high over the last two decades, are not growing any younger, the rise of talents like Anahat has to be reassuring.
Anahat has a long way to go. Even in Birmingham her work is not complete, competing as she is in the doubles partnering Sunaina Kuruvilla. For now, this young girl is thoroughly enjoying her role as the baby of the Indian contingent and earning all the attention for that too!
As the SRFI Secretary General and earlier National Coach, Cyrus Poncha was to say, Anahat was quite natural on the court, quick on her feet and impressive in her stroke execution. Aside from that was her composed look on the court.
"She came giggling on to the court when she was introduced for the first match," Poncha said of how her mental framework was on the big stage.
Her participation in the CWG would certainly enrich her skills and that is the Federation's key interest as of now. What Poncha underscored was the way she rubbed shoulders with her seniors like Joshna and Saurav Ghosal and others and keenly observed the way professionals prepared for the big occasion. This must do her a world of good, he added.
In a few days this young girl will be leaving for France for the World Junior Championship and Anahat for sure would be much better prepared for the tough encounters there. Will she make a star turn there, that will be the big question on the lips of every squash lover.