MUMBAI: Saurav Ghosal made the biggest breakthrough of his career at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. The 36-year-old former world No. 10 became the first Indian male squash player to win a singles medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Ghosal defeated 2018 CWG champion James Willstrop of England in straight sets to win the bronze medal. He later won another bronze in mixed doubles partnering Dipika Pallikal Karthik to add to the silver they had won in Gold Coast CWG four years ago.
Ghosal has many firsts in Indian squash, having won the gold in WSF World Doubles Championship with Pallikal. The Indian national champion for many years, Ghosal has been using Ultrahuman M1, a continuous glucose monitoring platform, to optimise his athletic performance, enhancing his strength and endurance by measuring glucose levels during his training.
Winner of a gold, silver and five bronze medals at the Asian Games between 2010 and 2018 and winner of five titles on the PSA Tour, Ghosal spoke to IANS in an exclusive interview about his success at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the future of Indian squash.
Now that so many days have passed, when did the enormity of your achievement at Birmingham CWG sink in?
I think everything that happened in Birmingham has probably sunk in over the last week. I just had some time to myself and I think it kind of sunk in at that time. Also, I am looking at new things to do now and I have new goals to achieve that I need to work towards. But, of course, Birmingham will always be very special. I will always cherish those memories and I will always be proud of what I achieved in those two weeks.
Did you reach Birmingham expecting to win the first singles medal or were your hopes more in mixed doubles?
No, I definitely trained very hard leading up to the Commonwealth Games for the singles event as well. I knew I had a shot but I also knew that looking at the quality of the field, I had to produce some really good performance. I trained hard to win a gold but unfortunately, Paul Coll was a very strong opponent and some days you just have to hold your hand up and give credit to your opponent. But I am really happy with the way I came back after that loss and to produce a good performance in the bronze medal match against James Willstrop to win the medal for India.
So, no it's not that I expected but that's definitely something I was aiming for. It was one of my goals and it was really good that it transpired for me.
Were you disappointed by the bronze in mixed doubles because only a few months ago you and Dipika were champions at the World Doubles?
Of course, Dipika and I wanted to win the gold medal. We are both very capable as a pair to win that gold medal. Unfortunately for us, we had an off day in the semifinal against the Kiwis (Paul Coll and Joelle King) and they had a very good day; they are a quality pair themselves validated by the fact that they went on to win gold the next day.
So, at the end of the day, it's still a medal we still have to be proud of and happy to be on the podium together. And, it is something that is special but, of course, we would love to change the colour from bronze to gold. Either way, we worked very hard for it and we gave everything we had, so no regrets.
How did you prepare for Birmingham?
I think the preparation for Birmingham started a year back in terms of scheduling of events, what tournaments I was going to play, and how I was going to pack my training. The idea was always to peak for the two weeks in Birmingham leading up to the event.
Two months before the event I was in America with my physical trainer Damon Brown and my current coach David Palmer. We did a lot of work together and got a really good 6 to 7-week block with three-and-a-half weeks in America and the other weeks in India.
Gregory Gaultier came down as well as part of the Indian training camp a couple of weeks before the tournament, which was a big help. And, I think I put in a lot of good work, and a lot of stuff I did work on helped me during the singles event in Birmingham.
But it's still a work in progress and I think I can do better. I think I can execute better. So, hopefully, I can keep the work going and improve as a squash player.
What according to you was the turning point for you in singles? Any particular point or moment that you will always remember?
I think it is very difficult to kind of pinpoint a single moment that made a moment for me here. Obviously, the performance against James (Willstrop) in the bronze-medal playoff in my opinion was my best performance of the games under the pressure that the match brought with it.
To be able to execute a performance like that is something I can be very proud of... beating James is great in its own way. But to win three games is something that I wasn't even visualising before, so that's a big bonus. I guess that's the one thing I will always remember.
But overall, it was not that good an ending for India -- we did not win gold this time.
See winning gold is not an easy task. Everyone is playing for that and Commonwealth Games has a very, very high-quality field. Of course, as a contingent, we are sad ourselves and we are introspecting as well as to what we could have done better, but I think all of us, every single member of the team, have put our best foot forward.
We all train really hard to prepare the best we can and try to control everything that we can possibly control. I think that's all you can do. I think you can focus on the process and some weeks it's like everything falls together and some weeks it doesn't.
We could come back and be upset but we got at least two bronze, so we have to look at it in terms of a glass half full rather than a glass half empty and move forward with that and be alert. See how we can do better in the coming next few events and obviously the Asian Games next year and leading up to the Commonwealth Games in four years.
What is your assessment of the overall standard of Indian squash?
There is some exciting potential in Indian squash with regard to younger players. The name on everyone's lips is Anahat Singh. She has done really, really well at 14 to be where she is. She has got a lot of potential but it's important to not put too much pressure on her -- we need to be able to guide her and encourage her in the right way so that she can realise her potential and go a long way.
Other than her, there are a few others, both the boys and the girls, who do have the talent and hopefully, they will realise the talent, and yet again one knows making a transition from junior to senior squash is not easy. That bridge is not easy to cross.
So let's give them the time to push them in the right way and hopefully they will go on and do really well for India and when win a lot more medals for the country. Here is hoping for the best.
What does the future look like for Indian squash?
I think Indian squash has come a long way from the time that I started; for starters we now have a lot more kids playing. The number has exponentially multiplied from the time I started about 27 to 28 years back, so that's a great start because there is strength in number.
The quality of players in the country has also improved. I think over the last 10-15 years we have become a very competitive squash nation in the world. We are in the process and on our journey to try and become a dominant squash-playing nation in the world and we are going about it as best as we can.
Hopefully, we will be able to reach that destination during my playing career. So, I think Indian squash is healthy at the moment but it's important that we don't kind of rest on these laurels because there is a finite time for us players like Joshna, Dipika, and myself, who obviously have done a lot over the last 10-15 years.
It's important that we as a nation and as a squash community build on the successes that we had and guide and encourage future generations to follow that path and exceed that path in some ways as well.