By RJ Mitchell
Former World Champion and World No.1 David Palmer believes that the hiatus caused by the PSA World Tour’s prolonged mid-season break due to the COVID-19 pandemic will only serve to enhance the chances of India’s Saurav Ghosal’s return to the top 10.
The 34-year-old, who currently sits at World No.13, attained a career high ranking of 10 in April 2019, but the ravages of the global pandemic and in particular it’s impact on Ghosal’s home nation of India, where the pandemic impact and lockdown measures have been severe, have made 2020 exceptionally challenging to a fan favourite on the PSA Tour.
With Ghosal only able to play two of the five tournaments in the pre-Christmas return of the PSA World Tour due to a troublesome adductor injury which had affected him at the Qatar Classic and then forced the Indian No.1 to withdraw from the CIB Black Ball Open in December, disappointingly brought down the curtain on a year that had started in promising fashion with a run to the final of the 2020 Pittsburgh Open.
Yet former World No.1 Palmer has no qualms in stating that when the Tour does resume there will still be plenty of running left in Ghosal and has dismissed age as a concern: “I honestly think Saurav does have more to give even in his mid – 30s. I still believe that, watching Saurav when his body is 100%, he is capable of beating anyone in the world.
“Obviously, there is no easy match in the top 10 and every player in there is present for a reason but Saurav is still incredibly committed and serious about his squash and I love that he is so professional.
“I know that throughout the pandemic Saurav was studying all the players and we were going over notes on each one and he really used the suspension of the Tour and is using the current downtime to his best advantage.
“Saurav came to me a couple of years back and he had been based in England with Malcolm and James Willstrop and had really built his game up there. But he was looking for something to give him that little boost and help him to make the top 10 and we started working almost three years back.
“But although he has slipped back to No.13 because of the whole impact of the pandemic on tournaments and also picking up a couple of niggling injuries, I don’t think that his level has dropped at all.”
Saurav Ghosal under the lights at the CIB Egyptian Open
Palmer, who retired from the PSA World Tour at 36, after a glittering career that saw him win four British Opens, two World Championships, enjoy two spells at No.1 and retain a place in the top-10 for a decade, until he packed up his racket in his old kit bag for a final time, does not foresee Ghosal following Simon Rösner into retirement anytime soon.
“For me age is not the defining factor. Looking back at my day, well I played until I was 36 and so did Thierry Lincou and we were both still top 10 at the end of our careers. Then you look at what Nick Matthew has done and then at what Greg [Gaultier] is still doing as he attempts to climb back into the top 20 and for me age is not the single biggest factor.
“In that respect it comes down to the body and the mind. Saurav has to be very smart about his training and aside from the stuff he does with me he has a full-time strength and conditioning trainer a nutritionist and he really takes care of all the areas.
“I believe Saurav has more in him and I reckon he can beat a lot of the top 10 players and I expect him to push back up the rankings again when the PSA World Tour kicks-off once again.”
The former four-time British Open champion was also keen to illustrate just how hard the global pandemic has hit Ghosal in his bid to stay in touch with the elite echelons of the game: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge around the world for all nations but there is no doubt that there are certain countries which have been hit harder than others.
“I have several players from India who I work with as well as Saurav and there they have faced very hard restrictions and it’s been tough for them to get on court and to travel. Obviously Saurav missed Black Ball due to an adductor but not knowing what the next big tournament is, for all the players, challenging for them.
“Yes, every year time is ticking away from Saurav a little bit, but he is just so professional, has taken everything possible into consideration and I believe you will see the difference when the Tour is back up and running this year.”
Palmer, who was famously known as ‘The Marine’ for the uncompromising committed approach and famed physical endurance that provided the foundations for his stellar career, is also viewing the resumption of the Tour in the second-half of the current campaign with a heightened interest.
The former World No.1 said: “I always liked the first tournament after the summer because you see who has worked hard after the off season and when we get back up running then you will see that again in February, March or April.
“Really you will see who used their time fully and who maybe slacked off a bit and knowing Saurav whenever that first tournament is, he will be back ready.”
Of course, the loss due to the pandemic earlier this month of one of the Tour’s calendar highlights, the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions held in New York’s iconic Grand Central Station, has been a particular disappointment.
The 44-year-old, who made his ToC debut as a raw 18-year-old in 1994, regards his failure to win in the ‘Big Apple’ as one of his greatest regrets but has backed tournament direct John Nimick to make ToC 2022 even better than its predecessors.
Palmer, who is now Head Squash Coach at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said: “Obviously, it is very disappointing that ToC has not gone ahead but it makes sense. I know John Nimick, who has run ToC for so long and done such a great job, and he made the right call.
David Palmer celebrates at the British Open
“I remember going there as an 18-year-old and trying to qualify and just how happy I was when I did this and got to play on the glass court in Grand Central Station which was just unbelievable for me as a kid. I always thought it was one of the best tournaments from every possible aspect, the venue, the crowds, the atmosphere.
“But it was a bit of a bogey tournament for me as I never won ToC and that was one of my biggest frustrations and regrets. I always went back to Australia over Christmas and no matter how disciplined I was with myself I just never found my best form at ToC.
“But I certainly had some great matches there and played a few semis, but it was the smart decision to call it as there is no way with how things are in the US you could hold a tournament in such a public place.
“Knowing John as well as I do, I’m sure he looked at every possibility of how to hold it, but it makes sense to reschedule it. Of course, it’s sad as he’s held it every year consecutively since 1999 but I’m sure he will make it bigger and better next time and I hope to have a couple of my younger players in the mix to qualify when that happens.”