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Squash Icon Saurav Ghosal Wants India To Remember Him as a Player of Dignity

Squash icon Saurav Ghosal has announced his professional retirement, but still aspires to win medals for India.

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Saurav Ghosal, the stalwart superstar of Indian squash, announced his retirement from professional squash on Monday (22 April), calling curtains to his 22-year-long illustrious career, which saw him winning 10 Professional Squash Association (PSA) titles.

Not only has Ghosal popularised the sport in the country, being among the top ten men’s singles players five years ago, but he also won India numerous laurels, including nine Asian Games medals and three Commonwealth Games medals.

Having now retired from the professional circuit, Saurav is focused on his upcoming expeditions for India, which might even include an Olympics campaign in 2028. 

Following the announcement of his retirement, Saurav spoke with The Quint on numerous topics. Here are the excerpts:

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What are your initial post-retirement feelings?

I think it's a multitude of feelings. It obviously feels a little bit weird, because this is what I have done for so long. And I don't have that anything to look forward to, in terms of getting ready for a tournament in the next two weeks. Obviously, I've known for a little while that I'm going to make this call, but once you actually do make it, it kind of hits you. That is a bit weird, but of course, like looking into the future, trying to figure out what I can do and how I can make the most impact for Indian squash. Just try to chart out the next course of life. Hopefully, everything will work out well. 

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What was the reason behind your decision? Why did you feel this was the right time to call the curtains?

Since the Asian Games last year, mentally and physically, I've just been running on fumes. I felt that I needed some time to heal, both mentally and physically. The grind of week in, week out on the professional tour was getting to me slightly. So, I had the recognition of the fact that if I wanted to kind of play for India a little while longer, which has always been the biggest privilege and honour, I needed to give up something. 

Obviously, the first thing is to look at the professional side of it, because playing for India is three or four times a year at the most, and that gives me the time, both mentally and physically, to pace myself a little bit more over the next couple of years, hopefully. It's an experiment, I'm keeping the window open. But I'm going to try my best, and hopefully, the desire and the hunger will be there to do it and my body will go with the mind to make it happen. Hoping for the best.

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Squash will be a part of the Olympics roster in 2028, at Los Angeles. Can we see you representing India there?

It is a little bit premature in terms of looking at the Olympics, it's still four and a half years away. Also, I feel like I can't get ahead of myself. Yes, I have done what I've done for India in the past, but I still have to show up and be counted and earn my spot. I'm just going to take it one, one tournament at a time, one year at a time. 

Hopefully, I will be in good shape, playing at the highest level to be able to produce what I want to produce for India. I think that is most important. It's not just about showing up and playing for India. It's about representing the country and then doing something special for the country and achieving big things. Like I said, hopefully there will be the desire and the hunger in the mind and the body will go with it.

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But the 2028 Olympics is still on Saurav Ghosal’s agenda list, isn’t it?

Of course, if that happens for me, that's great. We don't know what the qualification criteria are going to be yet. We'll know that next year. Obviously, the PSA rankings will come into it, but that route is closed for me now because I'm not on PSA anymore. But maybe regional championships could provide an entry for me. But I will take it one year at a time and see where it goes. If I can do something special for India, of course, I will give it everything. 

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Are you content with how your career transpired?

When I was a young boy, if someone told me when I was 13 that this was what I would achieve, I would have been like ‘No way!’ I didn't even dream of half the things that have transpired over the last two decades. I'm very grateful for all of that. I don't think I have a sense of entitlement, at least I don't wish to. I have just tried to do my best. And in the process, I have tried to win as much as I possibly can for India. 

I've fallen short on occasions, that is there as well. But the good comes with the bad. I feel like I've taken both pretty well. But all the things that I've done, I would like to think that I have elevated Indian squash on the world map and in the hearts of the people of India as a sport. I am proud of that. And hopefully, it will go from strength to strength from here on as well.

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What has been the biggest achievement of your career?

Because this is my professional retirement, and I still have the desire to play for India, I am not going to name the achievements for India right now because hopefully I have got a bit more to come. On the professional side, I would say making the top 10 in 2019 was something that was very, very dear to me. And also, making the quarterfinals in the World Championships in 2019, in Chicago.

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And on the flip side, biggest regret?

I really wanted to make single digits in the rankings. That is something that I always wished to have on my resume. I gave it my all, but there are a lot of good players around. Maybe I didn't fulfil the entire potential the way I would have liked to, but I'm very happy with everything that has happened over the years. 

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If you met a 20-year-old Saurav Ghosal whilst walking on the road, what advice would you give him?

When I was 20, I didn't have the belief that I could be the world number one and become a world champion. We didn't have the lineage as a country, so the ceiling of achievement wasn't there to push me through. It was only in my late 20s-early 30s that I genuinely felt that I could stand with the very best in the world and go toe-to-toe with them. 

I have always worked hard, but I think I've put in a lot more attention to detail towards the last seven to eight years of my career than what I did when I was 20. If I could just have had an innate belief that even though I'm coming from a country which hasn't produced a world number one, I can become a world number one, maybe I would have achieved a little bit more. 

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What will you miss the most about squash?

Travelling around the world with all the other players, we're like a touring family, you know. So I think that is something that I will miss and obviously playing on some brilliant stages across the world – in front of the Pyramids in Egypt, at the Grand Central Terminal in New York, the harbour in Hong Kong. 

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What is the best advice you have ever received?

There was a match, some 15 years back, where I was playing a very tricky player, who was in the top 10. Michael Willstrop came to me before the match and ‘Squash is a very simple game, we make it complicated. As long as you hit one ball on the wall more than your opponent, you're going to win the match.’

You can say that is a very simplistic view, but in actuality, that is exactly what it is. I have learned to simplify and create clarity in my head whilst playing the better. As a philosophy, I think that has definitely helped me.

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If given a chance to replay any of the matches which did not do according to plans, which matches would you pick?

For India, it has to be the two Asian Games individual finals in 2014 and 2023. If it's on the professional side, I'd probably say the 2019 quarterfinal at the World Championships in Chicago.

I did fantastically well to make the quarters, because even two weeks before the tournament, I wasn't even sure if I was going to make it. I had a very bad calf injury the month before and was working against time to make it. It was an achievement and a half to actually get to the tournament itself, and to make the quarters was great. But I probably couldn't back up my pre-quarterfinal win in the quarters as well as I would have liked to. So if I could replay that match with a slightly fitter body, it would be great.

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You have not retired from playing for India, so that is fuelling the fire at this stage of your career?

The Asian Games are a big pull. Obviously, there's a lot of uncertainty with the Commonwealth Games right now, but a gold at the Commonwealth Games would be nice. I don't have that. Whether it comes in the singles or the doubles. Doing it with Deepika (Pallikal Karthik) in the mixed doubles would be very special, because we have the silver and the bronze. In the Asian Games, the individual gold is obviously big.

I think there's also the desire to win a few more Asian Games medals. If I do, I'll go top on the list of highest medals by an Indian, with PT Usha. And obviously, way out in the distance, if I can make it to the Olympics, that would be very nice. 

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How do you want to be remembered?

I think I want to be remembered as someone who obviously achieved a certain amount, but did it while playing the right way, and always playing with dignity – both on and off the court. And from all the messages that I've been receiving since the announcement, I feel really happy that it is the overriding emotions from everyone coming through. I'm very proud of that.

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You have always been very humble. For all that you have achieved, do you ever not feel that you did not get the recognition you deserved?

Recognition is not in my control. I do what I do and I try my best to win as many matches as I can. That is in my control. Working hard to make that possible is in my control. Everything else is up in the air and it's uncontrollable. 

For me, to almost waste my headspace trying to think of all that is a waste of time that I can progressively use to do something good. I've always lived my life that way and I really hope that I don't change myself. Because this mindset keeps me going and keeps me hungry, not just in squash, but in life in general. It also keeps me happy.

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Any post-retirement plans?

I want to make squash a little more popular in schools around the country. I want to go into smaller cities, go into the schools to get kids playing a little bit more, making them understand what squash is all about. Hopefully, things will transpire in the right way and I can make a significant impact.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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