At 17, Akanksha Salunkhe is the top junior player in Indian squash and harbours dreams of making it as the best in the world. Several years ago, Akanksha chose squash over other sports like badminton and tennis as she just fell in love with it. Her father Hemant is a serving officer in the Navy and played squash recreationally. Perhaps, this is what drove Akanksha to squash.
She credits her parents for helping her focus on the sport she loves and not pushing her to focus on academics. Based in scenic Goa, she believes her upbringing in an Armed Forces background encouraged her to take up sport. There is a good sports culture and access to facilities like squash courts, gymnasium and swimming pool help in fostering the inner sportsman in an individual, according to her.
Ask her about the challenges she has faced and the reply is “The bigger ones await!” Akanksha is used to carrying her books with her during tournaments and is thankful to her school for being flexible with her. Studies are secondary and her parents back her wholeheartedly for a career in squash.
“I think it is better to focus mainly on the thing you are the most passionate about instead of trying juggle a lot of things like studies, dance class etc. Total dedication is of utmost importance,” says her father Hemant Salunkhe.
The Salunkhes credit her coach in Goa, Rehman Hubli, for his work in developing her game. Now, she believes the time has come for to take the step up and racks the brains of former national champion Ritwik Bhattacharya as much as possible. Akanksha also harps on the need for more tournaments in India as it will provide a lot of exposure and aid the development of players in a better way.
The teenager has already spent time with her seniors Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal. “There is a lot of gap between the juniors and seniors,” says Akanksha after having spent time with India’s two best during tournaments. “Joshna and Dipika are really supportive. I try to pick different things from different people, like Dipika’s hitting ability and Joshna’s on-court movements.”
If she can successfully incorporate both in her game, then, her dream of becoming a future world No. 1 may well come true.
Hemant says that they made up their mind to let Akanksha take up squash professionally a long time ago. Of course, there have been sacrifices, like spending vacations helping with their daughter’s training and not buying new clothes, shoes for themselves until extremely necessary. “We decided to provide our child with the best gear,” he said.
They never wanted their daughter to suffer because of sub-standard equipment it. He also points out that travelling to tournaments across different cities, countries even, can be hard on one’s finances. “We want our daughter to make the country proud. There will be nothing better than her bringing home medals for the country. We can keep complaining about a lack of infrastructure, support from federations and other things, but we can also take it upon ourselves to bring about a change,” he says, setting an example for parents across the country.