‘My best is yet to come’

Kush Kumar… “I want to do well in the PSA. My aim is to improve my rankings.”-V.GANESAN

Kush Kumar, India’s new hope in men’s squash, rates his bronze-medal winning effort at the Junior World Championship recently over the gold he won at the Youth Olympic Games last year. “It is the biggest achievement, according to me. No Indian has ever reached the last-four stage here,” he says in a chat with K. Keerthivasan.

Going by his performance in the last couple of years in the junior circuit, Kush Kumar has certainly set high standards. The 18-year-old squash player has won many international junior titles; he recently became the first Indian to win a medal, an individual bronze, at the World Junior Championship in Namibia.

Playing in his final year at the junior level, Kush wants to go out on a high. “I want to do well in the British Open (Under-19), to be held in Sheffield, UK, in January 2015,” he says.

In an interview to Sportstar, the Indian Squash Academy trainee speaks of his achievements and ambitions.

Excerpts:

Question: Can you tell us about your experience of playing in the World Junior Championship in Namibia?

Answer: I trained very hard for the World juniors. I trained with David Palmer of the U.S. two months before the Worlds. Ravi (Dixit) and I were training together with Palmer. In the quarterfinals, I had a very tough match against George Parker, but I won 3-0. I played really good in the quarters. But I had a tough game against the top seed, Diego Elias of Peru, in the semifinals and lost. Later, in his interview, Diego said, ‘In my whole tournament, the semifinal was the toughest match.’

I gave him a good fight than what Diego faced in the final. So I am happy. If I get to meet him in the British Open in January 2015, I will try my best to beat him.

Where do you think your game stands now?

After having trained with Palmer for two months, I have learnt a lot of things — like what one should do to become a good squash player, how one has to think while on court. Anyone can play squash, but only a few can master the art of being mentally prepared for a game. He (Palmer) taught us what we have to do if it is 9-9 in the decider, how to play that point and stuff like that. I know I am almost there. I have to do a little more hard work. With a little more effort, I will be there at the top.

Tell us about the tournaments you have won; and the ones you would like to win…

The British Open (under-19) will be my last tournament as a junior. I would like to do well there. I have won the Malaysia Open, Hong Kong Open and the Scottish Open in various age groups. In under-19, I haven’t won any title. So, I am looking forward to doing well in the British Open in January 2015.

Could you elaborate on the Indian team’s performance in the World Junior Championship?

It was an expensive trip. Even the Government didn’t support us. We were seeded No. 4. We played a tough match against Spain in the quarterfinals. I won my first match, while the other two, Madhav Dhingra and Vijay Kumar, lost. Vijay Kumar played really hard, but was unlucky to lose in four games. Spain beating India was an upset.

How has your game progressed in the last couple of years?

I am gradually improving. I want to do well in the PSA. My aim is to improve my rankings. Now it is 220. We have four PSA circuits in India: Mumbai (2), Jaipur and Chennai, all in 2014. If I do well in the PSAs, I will get into the top 100. That will be a big achievement for me. I am working on that right now.

Five years in Chennai — have you at any point of time missed home?

I don’t miss home (Dhampur, Uttar Pradesh) much because whenever I have holidays I go home and come back. I really want to do well in squash. I have never really thought of going home. Whenever I go home, I don’t feel comfortable, as I don’t get to work out there. I also don’t have friends in Dhampur. I am used to it (ISA, Chennai). I really want to do well in the circuit. I have an elder brother. My father is working in a sugar factory in Dhampur. Once every two months my mom calls me and asks me to come home.

In the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games last year, you won the gold, and now, a bronze in the Junior World Championship. Which of these medals is more precious?

World junior is the biggest achievement, according to me. No Indian has ever reached the last-four stage here. However, my best is yet to come.

Have you analysed your game? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My drops are good. My coaches (Palmer, Cyrus Poncha and Maj. Maniam) keep telling me that my front game is good and I should work on that. I am pretty good from the backcourt.

Have you ever felt bored by the routine at the Indian Squash Academy?

I love waking up at 5.45 a.m. and doing exercises.

How do you chill out?

I swim at ISA, play badminton at the Presidency Club (Chennai) with my friends or at the Madras Cricket Club. I relax with my Academy friends too. I go to the movies with my school friends sometimes.

Who is your inspiration?

Ramy Ashour. He is damn fast, elegant and full of speed, and what shots he’s got. His volleys are so good. No one can hit volleys like him.

What do you think of the trend of young squash players going abroad to study?

Most of the players are only thinking of going abroad after finishing their education. No one is thinking of becoming a professional player. They think if they study well they can earn a lot of money. So, most parents want their children to play squash so that they can get them into professional colleges. I don’t want that. I want to become a professional player. I don’t know why some good squash players are going abroad and studying.