New Delhi: Indian squash never had it better than 2014 as a bagful of firsts, highlighted by a gold each in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, marked a highly successful year for the racquet sport.
While the big three -- Dipika Pallikal, Joshana Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal -- were always expected to do the bulk of the job, it was pleasing to see Harinder Pal Sandhu emerge from their shadows.
The 25-year-old from Mohali set up a memorable gold medal feat for India in the men's team event at the Incheon Asian Games by dismissing defending champion Mohd Azlan Iskandar in the opening singles. Ghosal then got past the experienced Ong Beng Hee, triggering wild victory celebrations.
The win also lessened Ghosal's pain of losing the singlesgold medal clash from a commanding position. The men's team gold had capped off India's historic show at the Games, where it ended up winning medals in all four categories on offer. Kolkata-based Ghosal summed up his season.
"This year for me was all about Commonwealth and Asian Games. The huge disappointment in the Asian Games was not winning the individual gold medal. I was so very close and losing the final will always hurt," Ghosal told PTI.
"However, I'm really happy I could bounce back from that disappointment and help India and my team win our first ever gold medal at the Asian Games. It is my biggest achievement to date and I will always cherish the moment we won," he recalled.
The women trio of Pallikal, Chinappa and Anaka Alankamony stood a step lower on the podium at Incheon but the silver showing was enough to achieve something that had not been done before.
Pallikal, the first from her country to break into the world top 10, added to her competition tally by edging teammate Chinappa in an intense quarterfinal for the bronze medal.
The after effects of the heated match in September still linger and it is learnt that the country's squash queens don't share the same rapport they shared during their triumphant campaign at the July-August Commonwealth Games.
Whatever the case may be, their stupendous feat in Glasgow will always be worth cherishing. Pallikal-Chinappa surprised fancied opponents on their way to earning India's first-ever medal in the Commonwealth Games, and that too a gold. Their scalps included the mighty Malaysian pair of Nicol David and Loe Wee Wern and top seeds Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro from England.
"It really was an incredible year. It panned out better than what I had thought at the start of the year. You always prepare differently in a CWG and Asian Games year and in the end, all the hard work and loss of time on the professional tour was worth it," world number 16 Pallikal told PTI.
She and Chinappa are currently in Cairo for the World Open beginning tomorrow. "I played less tournaments this year because of the two multi-sporting events. So next season will be about playing more tournaments and getting back into the top-10," added Pallikal, who was training in Melbourne with coach Sarah Fitz-Gerald in the lead up to the World Open.
Ghosal and Chinappa too share a similar aim for the new year. Ghosal made headlines with a gold and silver in Incheon but his maiden semifinal appearance in the highly competitive men's singles field in Glasgow deserves more than a mere mention. He became the first Indian to reach the last four before losing to nemesis Peter Barker of England in the bronze play-off.
However, his performance on the pro circuit is one thing he would want to improve on.
"My PSA ranking has taken a bit of a hit this year and that is something I have to focus on in 2015. I lost some very close matches and it is a case of playing the big points slightly better. The aim for 2015 is to get back to winning ways on PSA and push forward," added Ghosal, who has slipped five places to be 23 in the latest rankings.