Joshna Chinappa happy with first medal, win in David vs Goliath battle

Joshna Chinappa (left) beat Malaysia's Nicol David at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarata. PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan

Joshna Chinappa can't believe she cried herself to sleep for two nights in a row. One from despair at being roundly beaten, the other from disbelief at beating a player she grew up worshipping.

Now that the Games are over, the medals secured and the emotions chugging back to normalcy, she has had some time to survey her journey. A first-ever individual medal at the Asian Games and only the second win in her career over eight-time world champion Nicol David rank high on the imaginary listicle she has scribbled out for herself. "Oh you know that match took so much out of me," says Joshna. "Nicol is a player I grew up worshipping." It was also her second win in six months over the lean Malaysian superstar who held the No. 1 spot for an unprecedented 109 successive months between 2006 and 2015.

The victory came after a fitful night's sleep.

Hong Kong's Annie Au had crushed her the previous day, which saw India losing 1-2 in the final pool match. "The first person I called was my father," Joshna says. "He asked me to calm down and just focus on the match ahead against Nicol. He does that well." Father Anjan Chinappa, a former state-level squash player himself, comes across as an aberration of an athlete parent at first. He doesn't watch Joshna's matches or follow her scores. Months and years after having his face pressed against the courts during matches, she told him off. "I just couldn't control my reactions during matches," Anjan says. "So when she looked at me from across the court, it was certainly not helping her to find me all worked up. So five years ago, I cut off completely. Unless she tells me the scores, I wouldn't know. I never look them up myself. I'm not certain if my wife secretly does."

After her match against Nicol, Joshna called her father to break the news. "She said, 'Dad, I won," Anjan say. "So I asked her what the scores were. '3-2,' she replied and hung up. Now that's not saying much."

But Anjan has made peace with being a parent who lives outside the world of scores and results, unless he's sought out for help. Squash always ran in the family -- even Joshna's great-grandfather played the sport. Bored of being in her playpen, a young Joshna one day asked her father if she could join him in the court at the Madras Cricket Club. She has never wanted to step out of it since.

The world No. 16, who began training with British coach Adrian Stiff this summer, divides her calendar between tournaments and flying to Bristol for training sessions. Week after week, traversing around the globe, from venue to venue and locking themselves in glass courts, Indian squash players fly under the radar through the year, their wins muffled and their climb unnoticed. It is only once in four years that their journeys get written about. She wishes the support was consistent and the attention less sporadic. "Yeah, it's only a once-in-four-years thing for us when important people tweet out about our wins and people talk about our matches," Joshna says. "For us, it's every day, every weekend [that] we need to fight and sustain ourselves on the tour to even get here or go back with a medal. No one sees that part."

There's of course the other battle that squash still wages: to get to the Olympics. The bids for 2012, 2016 and 2020 failed -- the last had Nicol in the presentation team making a case for the sport. Both Joshna, 31, and Nicol, older to her by four years, who goes by the honorific prefix Datuk back home in Malaysia, have been pioneers of the women's game for their respective nations. Even without an Olympic appearance, their journeys stand undiminished.

Now at the end of two straight weeks of squash, Joshna is dying to be anywhere but freezing playing halls. Ambitions of scouring the neighbourhood in Jakarta for a night out, though, are quickly put to bed by well-served precedent.

"I think I'm going to end up hanging out with my teammates in my room, laughing at the lamest jokes."