Ramit Tandon is a 27-year old professional squash player who represents India. He recently broke into Squash’s top 50 and is working towards becoming the 2nd Indian male to break into the top 20 rankings.
Ramit sat down to talk to us about his time in Varsity squash at Columbia, how the sport is growing in India and his career aspirations.
If the readers wanted to get a sense of who you are, how would you introduce yourself?
Ramit Tandon: I’m 27 years old, born and brought up in Kolkata, India. I am a professional squash player representing India, which basically means work is play.
I compete in squash tournaments in different countries and cities across the globe and I finished my studies with a BA in Statistics from Columbia University in New York, and then I worked for a couple of years before competing on the PSA world tour.
Yes, it’s kind of an unusual path but it’s been a wonderful journey. NYC is pretty much my second home and my training base. The world of sport is full of ups and downs but it’s indeed a lot of fun!
How are you keeping yourself busy amid the lockdown?
Well, it’s definitely a very unique situation that we are in. It’s a true test of mental strength. Especially for athletes and professionals who are used to travel and a very energetic lifestyle. But to stay motivated I have tried to set myself some goals.
I do my fitness training every day and have been working out on Zoom with my coach Anwar Wahab.
We have been working on different weaknesses. I watch a few squash matches since I’m really missing the sport.
Outside of squash I look into things that really interest me- have been reading up on how the mind functions, following the stock market, research on the economy- it’s going to be fascinating to see how things play out post-COVID-19.
Apart from the productive stuff I have been listening to music, trying to get tech-savvy and watching movies.
Any tips or advice for other squash fans during these times?
The most important one is if you do hit against your walls at home, use a white ball to avoid ball marks!
But on a more serious note – if we divide the game into physical and mental skills, we can still work on the physical and mental aspects.
It’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on your game as well and work on your fitness. The best way would be to follow some of your favourite players- they have been posting different home workouts. Watch squash matches, of course, as fans of the sport but also in a tactical way.
If you have recorded some of your own matches it would be a good time to analyze your own game.
Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of Squash? What are your hobbies and what do you get up to?
Outside of squash, I like meeting up with friends, going out every now and then.
I’m also a big coffee fanatic so I like exploring different coffee shops. My nature is such that I always like to keep busy or doing something productive (which could be good but also bad at times)- I feel it’s very normal to stay connected or interested in things you have studied at school or at work.
What has been the highlight of your squash career?
I can’t pinpoint to one thing, but the Asian Games medal, the 1st PSA World Tour title, a few solid wins on the PSA and a few achievements in junior squash (Asian Team Champions, U-21 World Cup silver)!
What was it like breaking into the top 50 of the World rankings?
Top 50 was one of my milestones and I’m happy to break into it. My journey has been a little unusual and the truth is that I did start competing on the World Tour a little late.
I think having reached the Top 50 has put me in a solid position to try and take the next step and move up in the rankings.
It’s given me the opportunity to compete in the major events (PSA World Series) which is why we all play the sport.
Who are some of your all-time favourite squash players? Why?
Squash has produced some amazing athletes over the years, but I only started following squash when I started playing the sport.
During my time, my 3 favourites are Ramy Ashour, Amr Shabana and David Palmer.
Ramy Ashour, I think he’s the best player to have played this sport. He’s been a training partner in NYC and seeing him overcome injuries and create magic on the court in person was truly special. He’s very gifted physically, mentally and skillfully.
Amr Shabana, for me, he’s the perfect squash player. It’s textbook squash- I feel you can really learn how to play the game by watching him play.
David Palmer, I grew up watching him play. His attitude on the court, his mental strength and his ability to put his opponent to work were very special.
How was it to hone and develop your game at Columbia University?
Columbia is a fantastic institution and actually a great environment for a student-athlete. It provides you with a great balance between world-class education and sport.
Firstly, being part of the Columbia University squash team was in itself a very special experience. I feel it adds value to you as an individual player as well. And in general, you’re part of this amazing family not only while at Columbia but for life!
Secondly, Columbia being in NYC gives you access to the NY squash community. I used to train with the professional players in the city- Ramy Ashour, Ryan Cuskelly, Campbell Grayson, Wael El Hindi, Alister Walker, Clinton Leeuw, Chris Gordon. Getting an opportunity to spend time with these guys was a real game-changer for me.
Apart from that our Columbia coach Jacques Swanepoel and I shared a great relationship and he understood me extremely well. He along with the Columbia weight room staff put a physical plan together for the team. Typically in a week, we would have 5 squash sessions, 2 gym sessions and 2 track sessions.
How did your time there set you up both inside and outside the court?
I always say the biggest skill I picked up at Columbia was time management. Balancing squash and education was a huge challenge.
Our practice would start at 7:30 am and run until 10:00 am. Then we would have a gym session from 11:30-12:30. Classes would start at 2:10 pm and depending on your schedule would probably end around 7 pm.
A few times a week we also had a mental session with our team psychologist after classes. The rest of the evening we spent in the library doing homework and preparing for exams. And apart from all of that let’s not forget it’s college- there is a social element as well, friends, parties and your love life.
I remember pulling a few all-nighters in the library, not fun, but that’s when you know it’s time to cut down on your social life!
However hard it is- it’s also a lot of fun. You’re always competing against time, which, once you enter the real world you realize is life in general.
India loves the sport as much as it loves Bollywood. However, this is heavily dominated by cricket, but the country has seen the growth of several sports in recent years. Where does squash lie in terms of popularity in the country?
I might be wrong about this but I think India isn’t a sport-loving country rather an idol loving nation. We idolize certain individuals and that carries the sport. Let’s take cricket as an example – when India plays or during the IPL, the stadiums are packed because you have huge stars like Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and so on, on the field.
These stars attract people. But in our domestic matches (Ranji trophy), the stadiums are empty since these icons aren’t playing. If we were a sports-loving nation we would be there just for the cricket right?
It’s the same thing in Bollywood, huge movie stars like Shahrukh Khan tend to attract an audience but some smaller movies which might be better, but without a huge star don’t do as well. Badminton is an example – PV Sindhu, Kadambri Srikant and Saina Nehwal performed extremely well in recent years and that’s what has made it the biggest sport after cricket. If Indian squash can produce world champs we will get there as well.
Is the sport growing there though and has this changed in recent years?
The sport is definitely growing in India. We have many more kids playing, more events and these events are spread across the nation.
Back in the day, only the major cities would host events, but it’s not like that anymore.
What do you believe needs to be done for the sport to reach similar heights to those of other sports in India?
I think we need to take small steps and not hope to get there in a matter of months. We are improving and I think making the Olympics will definitely be a huge boost. Maybe more public squash courts across the country. More importantly, we need to find a way to make the sport affordable for players just starting off.
Is there a good, young base of squash players in the country or not?
I think we do have a lot of talent in India. Of course, there will be years where we won’t perform as well as a nation and then there will be years we will do extremely well.
That’s how it works for most countries, to be honest, except Egypt. I feel since the sport is gaining popularity more kids are getting into it too.
Also, it does provide a huge opportunity to get into American colleges which helps as players and parents take the sport more seriously.
What are your thoughts on squash not becoming an Olympic sport?
It is what it is, there is no point in complaining about it. Let’s shift focus away from the Olympics, we are getting carried away by it.
There are so many other things we need to fix in our sport, such as prize money, spectator-friendliness, better media coverage, technical developments with TV coverage.
So let’s try to solve these and if we get it right we will automatically make the Olympics!
In other sports, there is a lot of discussion around women’s pay, and parity with the men’s part of the game, is this the same with squash?
I think all our World Series events are equal pay. I think we as a sport are more concerned about growing the game, growing the overall prize money than getting into conflict within the sport.
For a while, you worked in finance, is it sufficient enough for you to make a living through squash? Or do you still need to continue with your other job, as often is the case in various sports?
When you’re starting off, I think yes, having a job would definitely be good security but I think once you hit a certain ranking you can sustain yourself. On the flip side, if you want to compete with the best you need to give 100% and that’s only possible if you’re completely committed to the sport.
What are you working towards in the future?
In squash, the goal is to break into the top 20. Saurav is the only Indian male player who has achieved that yet. It’s definitely something I would like to achieve for myself and it would also help Indian squash if more of us can break into the top 20 or top 10. Post-squash I would like to do something finance-related or start something of my own. Let’s see how things play out.