Saurav Ghosal: ‘I would like to mentor a few young players in India’ - Hindustan Times

Saurav Ghosal: ‘I would like to mentor a few young players in India’

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Apr 23, 2024 10:39 PM IST

Saurav Ghosal has decided to retire from the professional tour but still hopes to put his best foot forward when he represents India

At 37, having spent more than twenty years of that playing professional squash, Saurav Ghosal felt like he was finally running out of fuel after last year's Asian Games, where he earned India a team gold and singles silver.

India's Saurav Ghosal flashes the victory sign(PTI)
India's Saurav Ghosal flashes the victory sign(PTI)

Choosing to retire from the professional tour, where he left a celebrated mark as India's most successful male player and the only one to break into the top 10, was therefore a timely call. Ghosal, though, isn't done with squash yet. He hopes to end his playing journey representing India, while also mentoring the current crop of the country’s promising young talent and growing the sport at the ground level. Excerpts from an interview:

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What made you take this decision?

After the Asian Games last year, I felt a bit jaded and running out of fuel both mentally and physically. I felt like I needed some time away to let the mind and body heal a little. That's one of the reasons why I've kept the window open to play for India. This does give me some time to get away, and hopefully rekindle the hunger and desire. All these years, I've really enjoyed playing on the tour and it's been a very satisfying journey. But going into tournaments the last few months, I felt like I wasn't enjoying as much as I have. I needed external things to keep me going. And I didn't want that to be the last bit of my career. Hopefully this gives me the chance to come back with the best version of myself whenever I play for India.

More than two decades of playing on the professional tour in a sport that is physically demanding... was it tougher on the body or the mind?

On both counts. Physically I wouldn't have been able to do what I did without my physical trainer putting the programs down for me for the last decade or so, making sure that I'm protecting my body and at the same time killing it in terms of being ready. And the mind, at the very top level, you have to summon a lot of things in your head every time you step on court. And that does take a toll over a period of time. Maybe it has for me right now. That said, I wouldn't have it any other way. I've enjoyed the battles, and without it I wouldn't have been able to do it for that long.

You made the top 50 in 2006, and it took you until 2019 to get into the top 10. One of your biggest titles came in 2021. Do you feel like you peaked at the latter stages of your career?

I would say I produced my best squash at the latter stages of my career. I think I understood my game a lot better. Starting out with (coach) Malcom (Willstrop), my ball control got better as the years went by, and I was able to execute plans a lot better around that. Sometimes you have a switch-flicking moment in your head, when you realise you're capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best. It happened to me closer to when I was 30 — that I can do that and not need them to not be playing at their best. In my head it wasn't any more about, ‘Can I do it or not'; it was about, ‘I know I can do it, it's a question of how long I can do it in a particular match’. The other players felt that as well, and I got that respect on court.

Do you wish it happened a bit earlier in your career...

Of course, you wish for a lot of things. I wish I had made single digits (in the rankings), be top 5. But when I started out, if you'd told me that I've achieved whatever I have, I would've been happy with it. Of course, there are a few things that I would've liked to achieve more, but it is what it is. And hopefully I can do a little bit more when it comes to India.

On that, do you have tournaments in mind? Maybe the next Asian Games, or perhaps even the 2028 Olympics?

So, we play about 2-3 times a year — the Asian teams, World teams. The (2026) Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are the two next big multi-sport games. The Olympics is four-and-a-half years away. My route through the rankings will be shut, but hopefully there might be a regional quota. If that happens, maybe the Asian Games will be the one. But I can't take anything for granted. I don't know if I'll still be able to play at the highest level in a year or two. I have to take it one year at a time, take care of my mind and body and see what I can do. I will try my best to make it happen, but I don't want to commit to anything right now. Once I settle down in the next few months, I'll sit with my team and see how to go pace things. And if I can make it till the Asian Games or the Olympics, that'll be great.

But you do want to end it playing for India?

I would like to, for sure. There's no guarantee that there is going to be a perfect ending. But I would like to finish it playing for India.

Are you also looking at mentoring or coaching the younger bunch of Indian players?

I would like to mentor a few young players, if possible. Also, take squash to primary schools to increase the base of players, not just in the big cities but also the smaller ones. And try and pass my knowledge to the coaches of the country, because they are the ones who are dealing with players on the ground. If we can elevate the coaches and their exposure, the players coming through the system will also get better.

And you’d hope to take Indian squash to a better place...

Yes. People talk about legacy, but the legacy is greater if the sport goes on to greater heights. Otherwise, it just withers away at some point in time. So, whether I'm playing or not, hopefully I can keep contributing in some way and help Indian squash get better.

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