Essam Hafiz triumphs

IT was on the eve of the PSA super-satellite tournament, the Chennai-ICL Open. The glass court, the main facility within the Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association complex presented a busy look with the Indian sensation Saurav Ghosal in action against the Egyptian Mohamed Essam A. Hafiz, who was representing Qatar.

S. R. SURYANARAYAN

IT was on the eve of the PSA super-satellite tournament, the Chennai-ICL Open. The glass court, the main facility within the Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association complex presented a busy look with the Indian sensation Saurav Ghosal in action against the Egyptian Mohamed Essam A. Hafiz, who was representing Qatar. The two were loosening up, the Egyptian in particular after a long journey to Chennai.

Mohamed Essam A. Hafiz (right) receiving the trophy from Brig. K. P. Singh Deo, President, Rowing Federation of India. N. Ramachandran, Secretary-General, SRFI, is in the centre. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

Raring to go

From the way the Indian moved and the manner he had the lanky Essam stretching and lunging, it appeared the visitor was asking for more than what he had bargained for. The smile on Ghosal's face when the practice ended, showed that the Indian was raring to go and more so after `winning' that practice match.

What a coincidence then that a few days later in the final of the tournament, the two should have again come together to the same centre glass court for the battle that mattered! Many who had seen Ghosal's systematic progress over the last few seasons under the watchful eyes of Consultant Coach Maj (R) S. Maniam and national coach Cyrus Poncha at the ICL academy, it was time to pronounce that the tournament was set for a fitting finale, alluding to a possible triumph for the Indian junior champion. More so after seeing Ghosal decimate the top seed Frenchman Jean-Michel Arcucci in the semi-final. The speed, agility, power and acumen that Ghosal displayed in that match truly belonged to a player of world class. Incidentally Ghosal is seeded number one in the forthcoming World junior championship in Islamabad.

And yet when it came to the moment that the local enthusiasts had waited for, Ghosal was to learn there is no substitute for experience. Hafiz may have allowed the young rival an upper hand in that practice session, but the Egyptian was a `pro' who knew when to tune up his game. To say the final was a no-match may be a harsh sum up of the summit clash but Ghosal ended up wondering how much more he had to learn to beat a `wall'.

Deceptive

Hafiz was just that. Replying to anything that Ghosal offered, the Egyptian also showed the deception to make the Indian run around, more often into no man's land. That the final ended in just 43 minutes highlighted the tight control that the champion had and also the eagerness that the visitor showed in grabbing his second PSA title this season.

Hafiz had anyway given sufficient indication of his intentions by the time he was in the semi-final. Cruising till then, Hafiz found in national champion Ritwik Bhattacharya just the opponent to prepare for the final. Ritwik too is an experienced professional but against the Qatari he needed to be consistent in unleashing his repertoire of strokes. Strongly built Ritwik had power and movement but losing the big points, he let Essam go with a strain, no more. In terms of compactness, perhaps Arcucci looked well equipped.

Economical in his movement and effective in his stroke selection, the Frenchman believed in conserving energy while ensuring his rival does all the running. It worked well until he bumped into Ghosal. "I felt tired" is a profound admission of a senior pro that his young rival had done enough damage. That Arcucci should later state that he planned to spend some more time in training before proceeding to the next tournament, is ample testimony to Ghosal's overall dominance.

The PSA tournament this time had fewer foreigners unlike last year when players from Pakistan too had come. Clash of dates was said to be one reason for the dilution but overall, the quality did not dip. For this the Indian players needed to be complimented for the systematic training was bringing about a transformation in the squash scenario in the country. For once the PSA tournament this time provided a big opportunity to the Indians to taste high level competition. It is a different matter that players like Vikas Jangra, A. Parthiban, Gaurav Natekar and Supreet Singh could not create a splash or for that matter Siddarth Suchde, the Havard based boy could not progress much, but each will admit the experience was godsend.

Good progress

Indeed the local organisers, the TNSRA as also the SRFI officials, in particular N. Ramachandran, the Secretary-General, could not have asked for more for a final, thanks to Ghosal. What is significant is that Ghosal had gone one step ahead of experienced Ritwik and this is no small compliment but also a reflection of his progressive improvement. To be sure for Ghosal, with the World juniors round the corner, the tournament was just the exercise needed before he flew to Islamabad for what will be a path breaking moment for him.

On the day of the final, the SRFI chose the occasion to recognise the rising graph of Indian squash by felicitating those who brought the happy tidings: Ghosal for winning the 2004 British Junior Open, the Indian men's team (Ghosal, Suchde, Ritwik and Manish Chotrani) for winning the bronze in the Asian championship and Joshna Chinappa for finishing runner-up in the 2004 British Junior Open. The national coach Cyrus Poncha was honoured too.