The PSA Challenger Tour returns to the Middle East for the first time in 2021 this week, with the MST Dubai Squash Series I being the first of four events in the region in the run up to the New Year.
The Challenger 5 level tournament, which will be held at the Aviation Club at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel in Dubai, has been restricted to only domestic entrants, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, meaning only those currently based in the United Arab Emirates have been allowed to enter.
The Egyptian quartet of Abdelaziz Hegazy, Omar Afifi, and Seifeldin and Zeineldin Shams, will all be in action in Dubai this week, alongside home hopes Ali Miski and Sampuran Banerjee, both of whom as part of the top eight seeding bracket.
The top seed for the tournament is India’s Sandeep Ramachandran, with the World No.311 the clear favourite for the title. We spoke to the 24-year-old, who is also the promoter of the tournament, to get his thoughts on his form going into the event.
“I think I am definitely playing my best squash at the moment especially in terms of [how I’m] hitting the ball. Physically I’m probably not at my peak yet but then again, not too far [away],” the Indian explained.
Ramachandran now lives in Dubai, and he has been putting in a lot of hard work over the last 18 months away from the Tour, having only featured in three tournaments since the Tour’s six-month suspension due to the pandemic.
“Being based in Dubai I have a very close team I work with. As for how I have kept myself in shape, most of the work I have been doing is squash specific. With our sport being so brutal, doing a couple of squash sessions a day keeps me in good shape,” he admitted.
“Technique is something I have always been interested in working on and that is what I have been focusing on after moving back. Fortunately I have two great coaches, Mr Maqbool Khwaja and his son Khwaja Adil Maqbool, who are very well versed in how to train the technical aspect of the game. So I’ve kept myself in good shape doing two squash sessions a day, six days a week.”
The Indian has made it through to at least the quarter finals of his last four tournaments, including reaching the semi-finals of the Angers PSA Open in November. He believes he is close t taking his maiden win on Tour.
That win would help him improve his World Ranking, something he wants to get back to his best of World No.153, a position he achieved back in April 2017.
“Almost there for sure in my opinion, and what the last few events have given me is that sense of belief that I can do it,” he explained.
“I’m pretty confident with my skills as a squash player but my physical fitness let me down. Hopefully, I intend to reach a stable plateau physically which will then assist me to snatch my first title.
“Getting back to around World No.150 is definitely the goal right now, but I also think it’s important to take it step by step without getting injured. The obvious answer would be to train hard and compete as much as possible which I think I’m doing, so it’s just a matter a time I hope.”
The event takes place from Thursday 9 to Saturday 11 December at the Aviation Club at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel in Dubai, where Sandeep Ramachandran is the top seed for the tournament. Follow the PSA Challenger Tour on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates from the event.
First Round Draw: MST Dubai Squash Series I
 Sandeep Ramachandran (IND) v [WC] Amit Kaushal (IND)
[WC] Rizwan Khan (PAK) v  Muhammad Waseem (PAK)
 Ali Miski (UAE) v Salman Hashmi (PAK)
Barath Bali (IND) v  Muhammad Jehangir Khan (PAK)
 Seifeldin Shams (EGY) v Zeineldin Shams (EGY)
Nikolai Denisov (RUS) v  Omar Afifi (EGY)
 Sampuran Banerjee (UAE) v [WC] Rohan Roy (USA)
[WC] Vishal Vanket (IND) v  Abdelaziz Hegazy (EGY)