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The Rediff Interview/Sourav Ghosal

'I would like to win the World Juniors'

January 21, 2004

Sourav GhosalSeventeen-year-old Sourav Ghosal was not fancied to win the prestigious Under-19 British Open squash tournament, but he upset all calculations and the seedings to emerge triumphant in what is considered to be the most prestigious tournament after the World Junior Championships.

In fact, this year's British Open Under-19 category saw two Indians steal the limelight. While Ghosal won the boys' title, last year's under -17 girls' champion Joshna Chinappa finished runner-up among the girls.

Ghosal defeated the top Egyptian, Adel El Said, 9-0, 9-6, 9-1 in the final. A 12th standard student, he moved to Chennai from Kolkata two years back with the sole purpose of pursuing squash at the ICL Squash Academy. Result: for the first time in the history of the 24-year-old British championship, an Indian won the Under-19 title.

Ghosal, who turned pro last year, plans to be at the academy for the next six months to prepare for the World Juniors, in Pakistan, in August. Shobha Warrier caught up with him in Chennai.

Congratulations on winning the coveted British Junior Open. What was in your mind when you went from here [Chennai]?

Thank you. Well, I have been playing international tournaments for the last 2-3 years and they include quite a few European events. So I knew who my competitors were when I went from here, because I had played the World Juniors last year as well.

Yes, I was not the favourite to win; I was seeded five at the Open, but knew that on my day I could beat anyone.

What gave you that confidence? Was it the way you played in the earlier rounds?

What gave me confidence was the quarter-final match. My quarter-final was the last one. In all the other quarter-final matches there were major upsets, except for the second seed. The top seed also was toppled. It was turning out to be like the men's World Open; there were upsets everywhere.

That was when I got the feeling, maybe, this is my year! At 10 O'clock in the night, my quarter-final match was on, and I was playing the Egyptian No.1. I thought if I got through the quarters, I had a chance to win the title. And the quarter-final turned out to be my toughest match in the tournament.

How did the semi-final go? Did it boost your confidence?

In the quarters I played very aggressively; in the semis, I was a little tired, mainly because of the tough quarters I played the previous day. So I didn't play the first game too well. But I played the second game decently well, and won 9-1. In the third game, my opponent even got a lead. Then I pulled through and finished the match.

When I was through to the final I knew I was going to play Adel El. He was the second-best player from Egypt. I had defeated the top Egyptian in the quarters. Adel also had a tough semi-final and quarters, so I knew he would be tired too. Because he is such a big guy, I thought it would be advantageous for me. These big guys don't pick up drops and low balls because they have to bend so much. So I was very confident of winning the final. In fact, I was not this confident at all about the quarters or the semis!

What did you tell yourself before you started playing the final?

I told myself, 'You have reached so far, and this is your chance'. Okay, I have one more year, but who knows whether I will reach this far next year? I decided to play aggressive squash and enjoy myself.

I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! The atmosphere over there was very, very good! On the whole it was a great experience.

In the final, you dominated...

Kind of... I won the first game easily (9-0). But in the second game, he started playing aggressively. He is a good killer of the ball. Anyway, I won it after I pushed him a little (9-6). The third game also, I won easily (9-1).

Finally, when you finished the match, how did you feel? Was there relief?

I said, wow! I was a bit disappointed initially because I had won all the matches with winners but in the final, it was not to be. It was a bit of an anti-climax. When he erred, I couldn't believe myself. Then I told myself, I am the British Open champion.

I really worked hard for it. It was a dream come true. All my colleagues started congratulating me saying, 'Hey, you are the British Open champion'.

I spoke to my dad in Kolkatta, grandparents in Chennai, and then all of us went to London to celebrate.

How did you feel holding such a prestigious trophy?

Great! We are given only a small replica of the trophy but the real trophy is very big and made of pure silver. It felt so heavy when I held it in my hand; I did not expect it to be so heavy! Then I looked at the all the names engraved on it, and all I could say was, wow! All the big names connected with squash were there, and I was so happy that my name also is there along with theirs. It was such a great honour!

How long did it take for the feeling to sink in?

Only when I got up in the next morning did it really sunk in.

How do you analyse the past year? Was it good for you?

Actually 2003 started off badly. I played Under-17 British Open last year, where I expected to do well but I lost in the quarter-finals. I didn't play well in the Open. I went to Pakistan in February to play the Asian Juniors. Though we [India] won the silver medal, I felt we could have won the gold. I felt my form was bad, and I decided to take a break from squash.

Sourav GhosalDo you feel frustrated when you are in bad form?

Yes, one feels frustrated. A stroke player like me will feel all the more bad because you are not getting the shots properly. So I took a break, finished my 11th [standard] exam and went back to Calcutta for a month.

When I went for the German Juniors in May, I felt okay. I played Dylan Bennett, last year's British Open Under -19 champion in the semis, and I beat him 3-1. That was my breakthrough match after the slump in form. Dylan, who is from Holland, is actually my best friend in the squash circuit.

In the final, I was down 1-2, but I pulled through and won the event!

Then I joined the professional circuit, and in the first event I qualified for, I reached the final. Frankly, I didn't expect that. I was hoping to go beyond only the first round, and there I was in the final. I played really well in the final too.

In the next event in Australia, I beat the world No 59 in the professional circuit. But in the last two events, I didn't do that well; I lost both in the first round.

Before the British Open, we had the Scottish Open, where I lost in the semi-finals. But I am glad I started year 2004 with such a big title.

From where do you get help in analysing your game and planning for the future?

Normally, national coach Cyrus Poncha is always there for us. After the final [of the British Open], he asked me, 'Did you play well enough?'. I said, "I don't think so." He said, 'At least you know that!'

Cyrus has a lot to do with what I have achieved because I have been working with him for the last two years. I know he will always be there for me even if I am playing badly. I owe a lot to him.

Major Maniam, who has come here [to Chennai] from Malaysia for the last one-and-a-half years, has got system into our training. And it has helped us a lot. Now the training schedules are not in our mind; it is there on the paper.

At what age did you get interested in squash?

From the age of nine I have been playing squash. It was my dad who initiated me into this game. I never used to play really well till I came to Madras from Calcutta.

Did you decide to move to Chennai because of the ICL Squash Academy?

That was the only reason I decided to come here [Chennai]. I am really grateful to my grandparents who came all the way from Calcutta for the sake of me!

Now that you have already joined the professional circuit, do you plan to take up squash as a career?

Yes. I am already a professional; not full time yet. I plan to do my graduation because I want to have something to fall back on.

Where do you plan to move to so that you can play more professional squash?

I may move to Europe, UK, Australia... I have not yet decided the place. Anyway, till August 2004, I will be in Chennai because the World Juniors is to be held in Pakistan in August and we will have training camps here.

What are your plans for 2004?

I now want to win the World Juniors. As far as professional squash is concerned, I am ranked 141. My realistic goal is to crack into the 100 and reach the top 70 by the end of this year. I think it is possible.

Photographs: SREERAM SELVARAJ

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