With Malaysian Open win, Saurav Ghosal’s 18-year career comes full circle

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When Saurav Ghosal stepped on court on Saturday, in the final of the Malaysian Open, his career had come to a full circle. The 35-year-old’s first-ever final at a PSA World Tour event came in the 2003 edition of the same tournament – in his first year as a pro – when he lost to Australia’s Mike Corren.

Last weekend though, in his 18th tour final, Ghosal became the first Indian to claim the Malaysian crown, beating Miguel Rodriguez 11-7, 11-8, 13-11. And in doing so, he ended a three-year trophy drought – his last title came in Kolkata in 2018.

“It’s been a while. I’ve been working hard and putting the yards in, in terms of what I wanted to play and do,” he says to The Indian Express. “Going into the match, I had a plan in place and wanted to execute it. For the most part I did that. It wasn’t easy, it was a hard win.”

Hard, not just because Rodriguez – also 35 – is a former World No 4 and is currently ranked three places ahead of Ghosal’s 15th spot. This was going to be a difficult match because the tricky Colombian knows Ghosal’s playing style well, and vice-versa. For years they’ve played together on the tour, and at one point were even trained by the same coach David Palmer (albeit it was a short stint for Rodriguez).

“We know each other very well so it’s not easy,” Ghosal says. “Every time we play each other we are going to try and play differently because the other player knows what’s coming. We try and do our best to keep a surprise element, but of course, it’s also a question of how well we can execute on the day.”

On Saturday, Ghosal knew he had to be more composed in his shot selection.

“He’s very good at making it very random (mixing up strokes). He plays weird angles,” he explains about the Colombian veteran. “I tried to close the court down and control the tempo as much as I could. It was controlled intensity, for the most part I managed to do that. Picking my moments, when to attack, when to defend, not get excited. Staying calm.”

In the six times the duo has squared off, only two matches have not gone into the deciding fifth set – the first meeting in 2009 and the 55-minute encounter last week (Ghosal leads 4-2 in the head-to-head tally).

Yet more than just adding a 10th title to his kitty, winning at the Bukit Jalil National Squash Centre in Kuala Lumpur gave Ghosal an idea about where he stands.

“Winning the event at 35 just gives me confidence in the work that I’m doing. Confidence and belief that my body can handle the physical stress. I just have to take it one tournament at a time, one year at a time. Hopefully, I can have some more big results,” he says.

18th year on the road

To put Ghosal’s longevity into perspective, consider that the women’s champion at the Malaysian Open, 19-year-old Aifa Azman, was just a year old when the Kolkata-man turned pro. Though he lost the final in Kuala Lumpur that year, he did win his first crown in the same season in Mumbai.

“(My fitness trainer Damon Brown and I) focus on making sure we’re taking care of the body, listen to the body, be smart about the training we do. We have to respond to what the body is telling us, we don’t always get it right in terms of peaking at the right time, but it’s trial and error and we do the best we can. It’s a process, an effort, but you get rewarded for it,” he says.

In listening to the body he’s decided, over the past few years, to set yearly targets rather than long-term goals. For the next season, it wasn’t too difficult to figure what the most important events were.

“Obviously, 2022 is a big year, I have to take into account the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and then the World Championships in May,” says the holder of seven Asian Games medals (one gold, one silver and five bronze) and 2018 Commonwealth Games mixed doubles silver medallist. “Hopefully I can produce something good there and win some medals.”

Those big events for next year are still a while away, and there’s still time for him to plan his fitness regimen and sharpen his game. But what he managed to do on Saturday is give himself the idea that he – the only Indian male to have broken into the top 10 – still has game left in him at 35.

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