To call Chennai the squash capital of the country would only be to state the obvious. The city boasts of a world-class infrastructure for the game. That has gone a long way towards luring a fair number of kids to take to squash seriously.
As any project of major magnitude, the ICL Squash Academy was not a result of a single day’s work. The facility today is a tribute to the concentrated effort over the last six years of the Squash Rackets Federation of India’s Secretary General N. Ramachandran and his dedicated team who have put in the hard years to help the sport reach the masses in the city. Around 500 young aspirants train at the academy and that is a clear pointer to the progress SRFI has made in making squash a popular sport. There are eight courts in the academy of which two are all glass and all the courts have adjustable sidewalls. This helps in the smooth conduct of singles and doubles events without wasting too much time.
“Squash remained an elite sport. Or, at least, that was the image the game projected to outsiders. That was the first thing we wanted to change and I am happy we have achieved what we set out to do 10 years back when I took over as secretary general of the SRFI. Our job is to continue to provide the right platform and atmosphere for the players,” informs Ramachandran who has had his fair share of high tides and tumultuous times during the last decade.
The work of SRFI did not end with bringing up a fine facility at its own premises. The Federation has also provided technical assistance to all the top clubs in the city to upgrade their courts.
The Madras Race Club has two courts that would compare favourably to the best in the country. “The race club has two very good courts and we also conducted two WISPA events in the club that helped in generating a lot of interest among the members. The courts at MCC and Presidency have also been upgraded. All this is done with a common agenda: To give all the players the best possible playing conditions where they can sharpen their skills,” explains Ramachandran.
All that the SRFI looks in a youngster is a burning desire to do well and a good attitude. Anyone can literally walk into the academy and start knocking under the guidance of national coach Cyrus Poncha. “We run an exclusive school programme where kids with talent are spotted and adopted by the academy. For aspirants from outside the state, we provide lodging at the dormitory inside the campus and an exclusive cafeteria to take care of their diet and nutrition,” says Ramachandran.
The boys who come under the scheme are taken complete care by the SRFI. All expenses towards traveling for all national tournaments are provided by the Federation. The players need not spend anything when under the umbrella of the academy. The number of national champions the academy has turned out in the recent past is fair indication of the professional training methods adopted here.
Ramachandran is unable to hide his joy when one mentions the names of Joshna Chinappa, Sourav Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal all of whom are names to reckon with on the national scene. The trio is the product of the academy. The elated secretary adds that the list is only set to grow with both the quality and quantity scaling up by the week. Talented players likes Harinder Pal Singh, Ramit Tandon, Ravi Dixit, Anaka and Anwesha Reddy are beginning to blossom and are seen as safe bets for the future.
Having achieved what he set out to do in his own city in 1996, Ramachandran has bigger plans for the future. “I want Chennai to be the model city on which we want to create similar academies in other cities. We have already chalked out a plan for Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai and work will start soon. Kolkata has the required space in place for them to build it on their own and Delhi will anyway get a world class facility with the Commonwealth Games coming up,” says Ramachandran.
With the sport right on track, what is the immediate goal SRFI has set for itself? “We are hoping to have at least one of our players return with a medal from the Doha Asian Games. The big goal though is looking at a few medals, possibly a gold, in the Commonwealth games in 2010,” notes Ramachandran.
If the players are able to return with honours from the Asiad and the CW games it will be the best return to the untiring efforts of the SRFI, one of the few sport federations in the country that puts player interest above everything else.
The centre court at the ICL academy in the city has seen some of biggest names from around the world. Squash aficionados can be rest assured that it is not the last they have seen. The city will play host to some heavyweight events in the next three years apart from the regular Chennai Open that is now a top-rated PSA event. Upcoming International Events: 2007 December: World Team Championship, 2008 December: World Doubles Championship, 2009 December: World Junior Women’s Championship