'I can beat the best in the world' - Joshna on Cairo QF run

Joshna Chinappa in action during the women's team final at the 2018 Asian Games. Raminder Pal Singh/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

A couple of days ago, Joshna Chinappa lost in the quarterfinals of the Black Ball Squash Open in Cairo. It was a loss that rankled slightly less than it usually would have. The loss to Joelle King, ranked World No. 3 only last month, was a close-fought one -- Chinappa led two games to one at one point before eventually falling in five. And Joshna had already gone far further than her ranking - World No. 16 - would have suggested. In her opening round, she beat the legendary Nicol David and then downed World No. 6 Sarah-Jane Perry. "I could have gone further, but I'm still happy with how I had done," she says.

It was a run that was particularly important considering she had just come off a disheartening loss in the second round of the World Championships only about a week earlier. "That was a really difficult defeat to deal with," Joshna says of her loss to Joey Chan, the World No. 18. The defeat was particularly hard because of the effort that had gone in to preparing for that competition. "I'm not someone who will do a two-week camp. I had trained for months and months. I had given it my everything and I still came up short," she says.

The defeat in straight games was bad. "It was as if she hadn't turned up for the match," national coach Cyrus Poncha says. It even had Joshna questioning herself, her decision to completely revamp her coaching system half a year ago. The catalyst for that move had been a dismal run up to the Commonwealth Games in 2018, where she failed to win a singles medal and defend her gold medal in the doubles event. "I had decided that what I had been doing for the last few years wasn't working. So I decided I was going to make changes. I started working with a new coach in Bristol and a new physio. It was a risk that I felt I had to take if I had to improve my game," Joshna admits.

"I think there's still levels to my game that I haven't uncovered. I'm still able to be competitive with the best and I believe I can beat them as well" Joshna

The results started to trickle in. She picked up her first win in six attempts over David at the El Gouna International and subsequently made three PSA Tour quarterfinals that year. "I felt I was getting fitter and stronger and I made three quarterfinals. If I lost, it was to higher-ranked players. These World Tour competitions are very competitive. In the first round, you are usually playing players in the top 32 and in the second you are playing someone in the top 16. So things were looking all right," she says. While she was prepared to tough it out against players in the top 10, the loss to Chan, therefore, had come as a bit of a stumbling block.

Her father Anjan admits he was worried. "Joshna is 32 and she knows that she is coming to the end of her career. (She) can't be satisfied with first round and second-round matches," Anjan says.

While the assessment might seem harsh in light of a illustrious career, Joshna knows the underlying truth of that statement. "It is something I am aware of. I don't have much time at hand. I'm not going to be able to play forever. I've given myself another three years until the next Asian and Commonwealth Games. After that I'm not so sure," she admits.

To her credit, after the unexpected loss, Joshna didn't panic. "I felt that I had perhaps been putting too much pressure on myself. I had been trying so hard that I had not been able to perform to my best," she admits. "So instead of trying to train even harder, I simply decided to head home and just have some fun playing squash for a week before I returned to compete," she says.

It was a decision that seems to have worked out for her. And coach Poncha is glad it has. "Joshna is still improving as a player. She's physically at her strongest and she's mentally one of the strongest in the game. She's a 16-time national champion but I think she's still to hit her peak," says Poncha.

Joshna believes that as well. Poncha expects her to rise to in the rankings when the numbers are released next month and Chinappa backs herself to eventually go higher than her career best of 10.

"I'm not the youngest player out there. But squash is a sport where some of the best players are 35 and still going strong. I think there's still levels to my game that I haven't uncovered. I'm still able to be competitive with the best in the world and I believe I can beat them as well," she says.