Bohemian Rhapsody

Mahesh Mangaonkar wins first PSA Challenger after marathon final in Czech capital.

Cold, and cramping can be lethal for athletic confidence, and Mahesh Mangaonkar overcame that distressing cocktail of unease while winning his maiden Professional Squash Association World Tour final at the Prague Open Challenger 5 held at Squash Club Praha in the Czech Republic capital. Playing Frenchman Lucas Serme, the 18-year-old from Mumbai battled in a brutally hard and excruciatingly long encounter to win his first-ever career seniors title from his first appearance in a final.

His opponent Serme, has made five finals in his career and was clearly the more experienced of the two, but it was the teenaged Indian who despite playing his second high-intensity match of the day against Serme, picked a title that will add layers to his confidence if not necessarily turn him into a sensation. It wasn't the biggest of his scalps, but more importantly Mangaonkar showed he could dig deep into his endurance reserves by sweating it out there for over two hours.

His semifinal against top-100 Frenchman had been an hour-long affair. "It clearly affected my fitness for the final," he says. Cramps set in midway through the finals though, and was when leading 8-3 in the third that he hit the proverbial wall. A big lunge at that point on the back-hand corner sent jolts of cramps running through his quadriceps. "I learnt a lot from this match on how to react when you get tired. When you reach that stage in a match, a lot of thoughts come to your mind. The temptation's big to give up, but I fought on," he recalls of his 5-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-9, 11-9 win.

Squash involves a daily pushing of endurance limits, and it's only the beginning of his seniors career, but Mangaonkar realises he needs to get fitter physically, with his first final - that left him spent - driving home the point. "Mentally too, I'll need to toughen up." Still, a PSA title - no matter if it's only the lower rung - at age 18 is still special for an Indian.

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