Balance the key for squash star Rohan as bigger challenges await

Now, ranked India’s No.1 in the under-19 category, Rohan, inspired by his sister Amita Gondi, who was also a squash player, is eyeing greater glory as he pursues his passion for the sport and academics simultaneously.

Published : Dec 05, 2023 15:33 IST , HYDERABAD - 7 MINS READ

Rohan has secured junior titles in the US, European, Dutch, Malaysian, Hong Kong and the Indian Junior Open.
Rohan has secured junior titles in the US, European, Dutch, Malaysian, Hong Kong and the Indian Junior Open. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Rohan has secured junior titles in the US, European, Dutch, Malaysian, Hong Kong and the Indian Junior Open. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For the 17-year-old Rohan Gondi, it has been a remarkable journey in the world of squash, having won junior titles in the US, European, Dutch, Malaysian, Hong Kong and the Indian Junior Open besides being runner-up in the Canadian, Singapore and a third-place finisher in the Qatar Open.

Now, ranked India’s No. 1 in the under-19 category, Rohan, inspired by his sister Amita Gondi, who was also a squash player, is eyeing greater glory as he pursues his passion for the sport and academics simultaneously with his father-cum-mentor Ramesh Gondi guiding him.

“My squash journey began right here in Hyderabad at the age of six, playing in the Secunderabad Junior Open in 2012. While my sister was winning national titles, I was consistently losing in the early rounds,” the 12th standard student of Oakridge International School, Gachibowli (Hyderabad), Rohan said in a chat with Sportstar.

“But, I would stay till the end of every tournament, play in the morning before the matches began, analyse the games in the afternoon bouncing ideas with my dad and sister and then play again in the evening after the matches were over,” Rohan said. “That was my way of accelerating my growth as a player and that effort paid off four years later when I won my first under 11 title in Chennai,” he added

Q: Which victory gave you the self-belief that you can make it big in squash?

In 2017 at age 10, I won the Asian junior circuit trifecta - Malaysian Junior Open, Hongkong Junior Open, Indian Junior Open. That was my first time playing tournaments outside India and I am very grateful to have got that confidence boost so early on in my squash career as that crystallized a belief - I can dream big, work hard and win big.

Q: What differentiates you from your competitors?

What sets me apart from my competitors is the unique journey my family and I have taken in squash. Thirteen years ago, none of us could have imagined having a conversation about my achievements in the sport. Back then, we were newcomers, utilising playground monkey bars, cricket pitch rollers for warm-ups, and patches of grass for drills. Our unconventional approach involved integrating Wim Hof breathing on our terrace and occasional basketball breaks for my dad.

Unlike the conventional path in Hyderabad, where success often involves enrolling in prestigious academies, my family’s strategy took a different route. Squash training accounted for only 25% of our energy, with the rest dedicated to physical fitness, mental strength, and nutrition. Education became the final piece of the puzzle. Rituals like nightly NPR podcasts and spontaneous dinner presentations on topics like CRISPR technology reshaped my training approach, focusing on aspects often overlooked by competitors in academies. This mindset transformed squash into a mental chess match, demanding daily discipline and determination.

The consistency of our family-centred approach and emphasis on education has given me a distinctive perspective on squash.

Q: Where do you train and what has been the biggest motivation for you to keep going?

For me to answer this, I will take you down memory lane with me. We dabbled into squash when we first moved to our community in Hyderabad and found that our clubhouse had a squash court. It was there that I first held a squash racket, and to this day, I continue my training on that very court. This has been such a blessing as I can train without the hassle of commutes.

I’ve never had a chance to get too comfortable in my victories because each triumph has propelled me to dream even bigger. This constant shifting of the goalposts fuels my hunger and determination to keep striving for greater conquests.

Q: Any sporting background in the family?

My sister has been my role model as she won nationals in two sports - swimming and squash. I watched her being relentless in her efforts which culminated in her winning three gold medals at Swimming nationals. She then ventured completely out of her comfort zone to embark on a journey in squash from scratch. Her determination paid off as she clinched two national titles in squash, becoming one of the few athletes to ever achieve such a feat in Indian Nationals across two different sports.

Q: You have won almost all the major Junior Opens across the world. Which one do you pick as the most satisfying and also the reasons?

Winning the US Junior Open in 2018 was one of the most incredible feelings in the world. In December 2018, my dad and I found ourselves driving to Boston amid a snowstorm from New York. The trip was my initiation into one of the world’s biggest junior squash tournaments. Although I had won other tournaments in Asia earlier, I knew this was going to be a very uphill battle with jet lag, harsh weather, and tough competition from outstanding players beyond Asia whom I had never played earlier. After some intense competition with players from 40 countries around the world, I found myself in the final playing against Pakistani player Humam Ahmed. It was a long match in front of a boisterous crowd, which made my hard-earned victory even sweeter.

Q: What are your realistic targets in squash? And in academics?

2024 is going to be a big year for me. On the squash front, I am hoping to win big in my first world junior championships that will be held in Houston in July.

On the academic front, I will be attending Yale University next fall where I intend to major in Biomedical engineering and focus on learning more about stem cell research and wearables to work toward the goal of bulletproofing the human body.

Q: How has been the family support, some background about your parents like what they do and how much of an influence they have been on you?

My family has been the most critical component behind the scenes. My dad has been my squash coach from the day I picked up my squash racquet to now competing in the biggest junior events in the world. We start our day together with our morning training routine before I head to school and pick back up the second the bus drops me at home. Our lives have become so intertwined at this point that it is hard to ever spot one of us without the other whether it is at home or when we are traveling for tournaments across the world.

Outside of the squash world, my mom has been the rock that has ensured that the rest of my world runs smoothly whether it is excelling at academics or ensuring that I stay connected with extended family and traditions at home.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Squash has not been as popular as badminton or tennis which limited the squash scene in Hyderabad. Having said that, I am happy that things are definitely looking up in the past couple of years with more people taking to the sport and many more squash courts now in the city.

Q: How do you manage academics and sports?

I usually take my books with me whenever I travel for tournaments, and you might find me preparing for an exam in the airport or in a hotel room. I have received support from my school and teachers. My teachers have been very supportive and helped me catch up on any lessons that I have missed. I am especially grateful for the unwavering support of my class teacher, Bushra Amin, and Rukmini Kumar, the Head of CBSE Segment. Their encouragement and assistance have been invaluable. I have won academic excellence awards multiple times in my school, and I strongly believe that the focus and mental strength that have helped me excel in sports have contributed to my academic success as well.

Q: Hobbies and favourite pastime?

I love to read whenever I have some free time and am an autobiography junkie. I typically read 2-3 books a month. My most recent book is ‘Clear Thinking’. Playing video games like Fortnite with my friends is another favourite pastime.

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