Interview by RJ Mitchell
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Saurav Ghosal has revealed that he will be using the likes of Nick Matthew and Gregory Gaultier as his inspiration when the PSA World Tour finally resumes after the COVID-19 enforced suspension.
Ghosal is set to turn 34 in just over two weeks and although he has slipped out of the top 10 World Rankings to No.13, the Indian No.1 has no doubt that his best is yet to come and his hunger to rebound back into the elite of the PSA World Rankings remains undiminished by age concern.
It was in April, 2019, that the Indian No.1 made it to the hallowed ground of the top 10 for the first time at 32 and after adding former World Champion David Palmer to a coaching team that is headed by long time squash coach Malcolm Willstrop, Ghosal says he still has areas of his game to adapt and improve and plenty of goals yet to achieve.
The World No.13 cites the success of Matthew, who won a World Championship at 33 and reached the final of the British Open at 36 and Gaultier who won his World titles at 34, as reasons he remains cheerful about life on the tour as a thirtysomething.
After having brought the curtain down on season 2019/20 with a campaign best success over Germany’s World No.7 Simon Rosner, before being edged out in an tense final set tie-break by World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy in the last eight of the St James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic, the Indian said there is still a spring in his step.
“Obviously I turn 34 in a couple of weeks, but I can honestly say I feel in better shape now than I did when I was 30,” said Ghosal.
“I am lucky in that I didn’t break into the top 15 or 10 until I was in my 30s and as a result that means I have not been grinding it out and absorbing the years of attrition on my body that I would have if I had been around that level for years.
“While I can take inspiration from the likes of Nick Matthew and Greg Gaultier and the way they were still competing at the very top in squash at a couple of years older than me, my body has not been stressed to the level and over the period that theirs was.
“Of course, it is not right for me to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys after everything they have achieved but in terms of their longevity, they are the examples I am holding up and using to keep driving me on.
“Right now I can honestly say that while I don’t know how many years I will have left at the top level, the way I am feeling is fresh physically speaking and really hungry mentally speaking, and I very much look forward to the news confirming when the tour will resume.
“It is funny that although I am at 13 in the World Rankings I feel and genuinely believe that my level has gone up and I am playing, or was playing better squash that I had been when I was at
No.10. But I think that reflects well on the tour as it means that the other players have raised their levels and it is up to me to respond.
“Clearly my first target when the PSA World Tour does resume will be to reclaim my top 10 status and then try and kick on to get inside the top eight, the difference between being 13 to 10 and then to eight is massive and that is a priority for me.”
Ghosal’s mood, despite suffering the 90% humidity of his native Kolkata in Monsoon season, has been lifted by a return to the court that he hopes will soon see him joined by Indian No.2 Ramit Tandon.
“I have been back on court for around two-and-a-half weeks working on solo stuff at my home club, the Calcutta Club and that has been a big step forward but it is tough conditions in India right now as we are in the middle of the Monsoon season and the humidity is terrible.
“My hope is to start working with Ramit Tandon and I have also been staying in constant touch with my coaching team of Malcolm Willstrop and David Palmer while my fitness coach Damon Brown has been sending me a steady flow of squash fitness specific videos. So, I have remained in good shape and definitely got a lift from being back on court.
“Obviously when the suspension came after Canary Wharf it was a little bit for frustration because I had beaten Simon Rösner and came awfully close to beating Mo [ElShorbagy] in losing a final set tie break 10-12 in the quarters. But you know what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic has happened and you have to look forward.
Saurav Ghosal (right) in action against Mohamed ElShorbagy (left) at the 2020 Canary Wharf Classic
“But getting back on court has been a huge help and I just hope we will go forward and not back.”
Yet with India having sustained more than one million COVID-19 infections, which is the third largest on the planet and international flights still restricted, Ghosal admits that he is having to balance growing hopes of a not too distant return to the Tour with his stark domestic reality.
“In India we are not allowing international flights out or in and it is hard to know when these restrictions will be lifted and in terms of the restart of the PSA World Tour, I can understand the caution in making any announcements.
“As a player I am desperate for some news on a restart but given the level of uncertainty that still surrounds the world, and in particular here in India, I know I will have to balance my hunger to return with my own safety and of course that of my family.
“The bottom line is that things come down to personal risk and how much an individual is prepared to put his or her health on the line.”