Mihir Badhan’s father Raghbir points to faded lines of flourescent pink tape marking off a narrow strip of flooring on each side of the squash court.
“When we play, Mihir’s shots have to bounce between the tape and wall. That’s how we make it fair.”
Each strip is maybe 14 inches wide, and Raghbir is considering making them smaller. The first time his son defeated him was when Mihir was 13, and the two have been playing under special restrictions ever since.
“I think he’s beaten me for the past four years,” says Raghbir.
“He started in our team at number four, and within three weeks he was number one. He didn’t beat me directly, but he passed me in points.”
Mihir Badhan, now 16, with a tall, lanky build, listens quietly to his father’s explanation, pitching in occasionally.
Mihir is one of the premier young squash players in Canada, currently ranked eighth nationally in his age group. He has been part of Team BC for six years, and fluctuates between first and fourth ranking in the province. Earlier this year he was offered a scholarship to Ivy League Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) to play squash, despite being barely old enough to drive.
“He wants to do it, he’s ready, he’s determined, he works hard,” says Raghbir.
Father and son share a look.
“He could work harder. He could get to number one.”
Considering how quickly Mihir rose through the ranks of B.C.’s squash elite, the top ranking seems reachable. Mihir only began playing seriously at 10, when he entered his first junior tournament.
“I used to get killed in them,” he says.
After his father found him a coach for daily sessions, he began moving up the ladder.
At 13, Mihir won his first men’s open tournament at the ‘A’ level (the second of four official levels in B.C.) against competitors of all ages. Two years ago, he placed second in the province, and last year he took seventh at nationals. This weekend he will be playing against some of the best competition in B.C. at the Evergreen Junior Open (Oct. 24-26) in Vancouver as part of the qualifying process for the Canadian Winter Games to be held in Prince George this February.
So what do Mihir’s friends at Abby Senior Secondary say when Mihir tells them he plays squash?
“Some people ask, ‘You play a vegetable?’” admits Mihir with a grin. “I’ve taken out my friends to play, and they say ‘Man, this sport looks so easy!’ Then I get them on the court with me and they realize it’s not as easy as it looks.”
The biggest challenge Mihir and his father have faced is an odd one – Mihir is simply too good for the training or competition the Fraser Valley can provide.
Mihir trains six days a week and plays around three tournaments a month, as well as running twice a week and playing on the Abby Panthers soccer team. Twice a week, Raghbir drives him to Richmond or the Jericho Tennis Club in Vancouver for expert coaching, but it’s not enough to keep up with players from the squash hotbeds in Victoria or eastern Canada.
Mihir, who wants to play professionally as part of the World Squash Association World Tour, is eager to find bigger stages for his game.
“I love the competition,” he says. “When you’re on the court and you have a hundred people watching you, it feels good…At nationals the bleachers are huge.”
In Abbotsford, Mihir is an elite athlete in a sport on the edge of popular culture, and there certainly are no bleachers at the Apollo Athletic Club, where he and his father train. At times they have taken entire classes of his peers to Apollo to let them try the game.
Mihir has some advice for those learning the game, whether simply for fun or eventual competition.
“Beginning players have a tendency to hit the ball hard, but in squash you don’t need to hit the ball hard to be a good player,” he says. “They just have good accuracy.”
The accuracy to play an entire game in the space between the pink tape and the wall.