Recently in the city for the Chennai Open squash championship, Saurav Ghosal spoke about how his game has grown and his goals for the season
The sound of a squash court varies according to the playing style of its occupants. To the ever-present unfocussed, echo-laden cacophony of balls, walls and rackets, Saurav Ghosal adds the urgent squeak of scurrying soles. There is something of Michael Chang in the 23-year-old's compact frame and blurry court coverage. Speed has always been the foundation of Saurav's game, but he says he's learned to use it better in the time he's spent under Malcolm Willstrop's tutelage at the Pontefract Squash and Leisure Club in Leeds.
“I've become a lot more efficient,” he says. “Before I used to scamper a lot, and I was very quick from A to B but not back to A. Now I've worked on that and my recovery time is much better.”
The 23-year-old, who was in town recently for the Chennai Open squash championships, is now ranked a career-best 29 in the world. He credits his coach for his steady ascent up the PSA rankings. “There are very few people, if I'm playing well, who can beat me at squash right now, and that's basically because of me being in Leeds and thanks to Malcolm Willstrop. Obviously it's taken a while to get used to it, trying to hit the right shot at the right time, all the time, but that's the way to win big matches and big tournaments and it's a continuous process, improvement.”
Streamlining his shots
The most fundamental improvement in his game in his four-and-a-half years at Leeds, says Saurav, has been the streamlining of his racket-swing. “I think my technique is better, in the sense that my swing is not as wavy as what it was,” he says. “It's simpler, and holds up better when the pace gets high and the pressure's high. It moves through a smoother trajectory, basically.”
Apart from tightening his basics, Willstrop's coaching has also made Saurav a more expansive player. “He likes you to express yourself; he wants you to initiate play. So you won't see him asking you to play boring squash for long periods of time.”
His progress through the Chennai Open, where he reached the men's semifinals and won the mixed doubles with Dipika Pallikal, was never dull to watch. His semifinal defeat to Jonathan Kemp was perhaps the most eye-catching contest of the event, a match full of deft touches and disguised changes of angle from both players. Saurav had the match under his control, having won the first game and 7-0 up in the second, only to lose three games to one. “I was solidly disappointed but you have to move on and think about the things that I could do next time. Maybe a bit more aggressive; maybe at that point I just stepped back a little bit. But, it's touch-and-go. It happens. Kempy played some ridiculously good squash from 7-0 down.”
Asked about his goals for the season, Saurav says that he wants to break into the top 20 as soon as possible. “Hopefully I'll get a few good results in the months to come.”
His targets also include the Commonwealth and Asian Games. “Obviously, they're big tournaments for the country. It's a great honour representing the country and winning a medal is just an unbelievable feeling,” he says. It's a feeling he knows well, having won a bronze at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
“The Commonwealth Games is in Delhi, so with a home crowd, people will expect a bit more,” he says. “The Asian Games is in China, I've never been there, so I'm really looking forward to that. I think we have a good chance, and we'll give it our best shot and I'm sure we'll come back with something.”