Saurav Ghosal is the highest-ranked men’s squash player from India. We caught up with Saurav to talk about life in lockdown, Indian squash and his remarkable career, in this exclusive Sportageous feature.
Zushan Hashmi: How were you keeping yourself busy amid the lockdown?
Saurav Ghosal: Thankfully, I had gotten myself into a routine. I did a physical session at about 11:30 am. In the evenings, I watched some old squash matches to learn as much as I can. I’ve also been working with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) Foundation over the last 6 weeks to set up a hardship fund for PSA players who are struggling financially due to the suspension of the Tour and squash activity in general. I’m also trying to read a bit more!
What do you do outside of squash?
I listen to a lot of music, watch movies and TV shows an watch a lot of sport! I also try to bake and cook once in a while.
What has been the highlight of your career? Why?
I think I would have to pick winning Team Gold at the Asian Games 2014. We had been very close to winning something major in the years preceding the event but always fell agonizingly short. The relief and satisfaction I felt, was immense when I won the last point to clinch it for India. It remains India’s only Gold at the Asian Games in squash but hopefully, we will add to that in the years to come!
What was it like to win the Gold Medal at Incheon?
Winning the Gold was my redemption! I had lost the Gold in the Individual event a few days earlier after being match ball up and needless to say, I was devastated.
However, I was really happy with myself for getting myself together to win the team Gold for my team.
The last game of the deciding match against Malaysia was special. I had nothing left in the tank after the arduous week I had been through. I was empty, both physically and mentally; but the strength of my team and their belief pulled me through that day!
Who are some of your all-time favourite players?
Amr Shabana is my favourite player of all time. I always learn so much from watching him play. He was a brilliant technician, with an astute sense of which shot to play and when.
It also helps that he achieved greatness in the game, doing it the ‘right’ way. Some other players I’ve enjoyed watching over the years are Ramy Ashour, James Willstrop and Jonathan Power.
You are the highest-ranked Indian player in the men’s game. What has that experience been like?
I guess the highest-ranked title brings it with a responsibility to carry the hopes of the nation on the international stage. I also feel it is a massive privilege and I’m blessed to be in the position I am.
My dream has always been to be the best in the world and that quest continues even today. Achieving that will transform squash in India and that will be brilliant for world squash.
What do you cite as the reason/s for your success?
Hard work is probably the biggest reason. I try to work harder than anyone else. Dedication and perseverance have helped me go a long way.
You have faced off against some of the finest in the game, who would you say have been some of your toughest opponents and why?
I think all the top players are hard to play against. They all have their strengths. But if I had to really pick, then I would say Karim Darwish and Gregory Gaultier.
These 2 players destroy you if you’re even a little off their level. Lee Beachill is another player who was so hard to play against. I never played him in a match but got a few lessons in practice for sure!
Squash is slowly making headway [in India] and is in a much better position than when I started playing 25 years back.
Tell me a little bit about the mental aspects of competing at the highest level, and the expectations that fans and people have of you?
The mentality of playing in big tournaments and in big matches is what separates the very top players from the rest of the pack. You have to enjoy the pressure of competing, feed off the expectations from fans and have gratitude for what you are doing.
The gratitude is especially important when you are going through the lows in your career.
Do you think these are just as important as the physical side of the game? Why/Why not?
The mental side of the game is as important, if not more. At the top, everyone has almost the same quality of skill sets and physicality.
The mental strength is what carries you through and takes you to the top.
When we think of India, we think of cricket. Where does squash fall in the rapidly growing sports landscape in India?
Cricket in India will always be a religion. I don’t think that’s changing in my lifetime! However, the last few years have seen the emergence of other sports.
Squash is slowly making headway and is in a much better position than when I started playing 25 years back. I wouldn’t say squash would make the top 5 sports yet, so there’s still a lot to be done.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of being a squash player in India?
I think getting the right people guiding a young player from when they start is a challenge.
India doesn’t have enough experience in producing top players and because of that, there’s a slight lack of expertise and knowledge. We need to work to fill that void.
Is there a good, young base of squash players coming out of India? Is this different from the past? How/Why not?
There are some good players coming up with a lot more belief than when I was a junior, which is a great sign.
They are hungry to do well and extremely enthusiastic about the game. Hopefully, they will make the transition onto the PSA tour and do well in the near future.
As the frontrunner of the game in your country, what do you think needs to be done for India to dominate in large numbers at the sport? As most would, I use the example of Egypt and all that they’ve done to become the best nation at the game.
The number of kids playing the game in India has increased a lot in the last decade and that’s a good start. We need to keep pushing those numbers up and take it into schools a lot more.
The middle class needs to be involved and schools are the best way. Also, better quality coaches need to be groomed to help the players starting out.
What are your thoughts on squash not becoming an Olympic sport?
It is very sad and disappointing that squash is not an Olympic sport already. The game ticks all the boxes to be one, but for some reason, it isn’t.
Squash players are some of the best athletes on the planet and deserve the platform of the Olympics to showcase their talent. I believe squash should look inwards to grow organically as much as possible over the next 5-10 years.
The sport has progressed in the recent past and we need to push on to make it even better for all involved. Hopefully, the Olympics will see the value of the sport and want us in!
When squash resumes, what are your ambitions on the court?
I want to win major titles and be more consistent in my performances.
Do you have any plans for life after squash, if so, would you like to share them, or is it something you do not try to think about too often?
I would like to stay connected with sport in some form.
Mentoring players would be something I would like to do. I think I could enable them to realize their potential.
Any other thoughts or comments?
I mentioned earlier that I had been working on a Hardship Fund for PSA players. I’m happy to say the PSA Foundation launched the We Are One Fund on 14th May. It is a crowdsourcing initiative and we are currently in the process of raising the money to help players. So, if anyone wants to help out, please donate here.
It would mean a lot and help a lot of struggling players!