India’s Saurav Ghosal has opened up on the challenges he faced in 2021 as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Indian No.1 is now competing in his 19th season on the PSA World Tour, sitting at a current World Ranking of No.16, with a high of World No.10. Ghosal has admitted that the past year has been tough for everyone and explained the difficulties that he faced over the past 12 months.
“I think COVID has been hard for everyone. It's been hard for me, it’s been difficult as squash players to not have certainty and clarity as to when you will be playing, whether you're going to be able to get to events or not.” Ghosal admitted.
“So for example, I couldn't play the British Open this year, which I felt really sad about. I’ve played the British Open every year, but I just couldn't get to England, because of the restrictions between India and England. So I think that's been the hard part. And that's also caused a lack of continuity in terms of the tournament's you play and kind of the breaks that you have to get your training in and things like that.
“I'm glad the tour has stayed afloat over this period and a lot of credit has to go to the people working at the PSA and the promoters as well for making these events happen because it's not easy, for sure.”
Ghosal is looking forward to a busy period of squash over Spring, all leading up to the PSA World Championships in Cairo and then the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Ghosal explained that how his body is feeling will dictate how he navigates the busy period to be able to perform at his best,
“I think I'm going to take it a couple of months at a time and try not to plan too far ahead,” he said.
“I do obviously want to play all the big ones, but I'll have to look at some sort of a window in which I can get a good training block in as well to prepare for that busy period because normally we have the summer off, but this year we haven't. And next year we're not going to, so I'll have to find some sort of a block to get that in, but hat’s flexible based on how I'm feeling both physically and mentally.”
Ghosal – who last month was named the new PSA Men’s President at the association’s AGM – hasn’t been outside of the world’s top 30 since 2009. The World No.16 recognises just how important the mental side of the game is and admits that may have held him back in the past.
“I think for a long time, I subconsciously genuinely didn't believe that I was good enough to be top five, top eight in the world. I think that's kind of changed a little bit over the last three to four years, especially after I started working with David Palmer,” Ghosal said.
“I think making the quarter finals of the World Championship in Chicago in 2019 was a little bit of a turning point mentally for me. To be able to do that, with the injury stuff that I had just before the event, to come back and to be able to perform at that level it made me believe that, if I can actually put my game together and trust in what I do, then I'm good enough in terms of executing against anyone in the world.”
Saurav Ghosal in action
Ghosal is regarded as one of the most skilful players on the PSA World Tour and despite the aggressive players that occupy the world’s top 10, Ghosal explains how he values his own strengths and the way he is seen and thought of is very important to him.
“I think there are so many ifs and buts,” he said.
“Like, I wish I was half a foot taller. I wish I had 50 per cent more power. There's so many things that you wish you had. But I do have a lot and I think it's a question of understanding what you're very good at and no, I'm never going to be able to play like an Asal or Mohamed ElShorbagy, but they're never going to be able to play like me.
“I think it's about leveraging what I am really good at and using that to the best of my ability. I think I've also been brought up with someone like a Malcolm Willstrop who's always been very insistent on behaving properly and respecting people. Aggression doesn't always mean puffing your chest out and doing fist bumps and things like that. Aggression can be very internal, being very clinical in what you do and hitting your marks consistently.”
Let’s say I can produce the squash that I can produce, behaving correctly and doing it the right way, then I'm going to go down in history as a more likeable World No.1, or number two, or whatever it is, than some of the other guys, and I think that's very important to me as well.”
Former World No.1 James Willstrop has been a key training partner and friend to Ghosal throughout his career and the 35-year-old explains how he helped him a lot in early sessions at Pontefract under the guidance of Willstrop’s father, Malcolm.
Ghosal said: “James has helped me in a lot of ways. He has the way he plays then what he does in terms of the way he structures the game. Ever since I went to Pontefract, whenever Malcolm used to say things and it used to be like a theory and sometimes I didn't really understand everything of it.
“James used to come in for a session and he used to do what Malcolm was actually saying, it used to be like a practical demonstration of it.
“I think getting James’ viewpoint on a few things would probably help me, and I think he'd be really good once he stops and he gets into coaching. He’ll be very good because he's very meticulous in terms of his squash.”