When Saurav Ghosal lost his men’s singles final at the 2023 Asian Games, it was hard to keep the feelings of disappointment and disillusionment at bay. At 37, the heaviness of not clinching an elusive gold medal at the Asiad in his sixth attempt felt a bit much to carry. Ghosal called close friend and coach James Wilstrop, hinting at the need to sit down and talk about his future in the sport.
Between that phone call and the duo’s next conversation, a series of remarkable events transpired. At the 141st session of the International Olympic Council in Mumbai, squash was formally added to the tournament roster of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Felicitations for the Asian Games medallists were in their last leg, and Ghosal found time to drop Wilstrop a text to schedule their long-due phone call.
“Speak about what?,” the Brit would write back. “What is there to speak about? The Olympics is there now!”
“I think a lot of people still can’t believe that we are in. We understand that we’re only in the LA Games right now, and we still have to work very hard to make sure that we grow the sport in the right way, through digitisation and sustainability, to show the IOC and subsequent organising committees of the Olympics that squash deserves to stay in,” Ghosal tells Sportstar.
Ghosal has seen many seasons in world squash, having dedicated the better part of the last two decades to his career in the sport. He returned from Hangzhou with his ninth Asiad medal, having made the podium in every single edition since Doha 2006. The squash community has been screaming at the top of its lungs about Olympic inclusion for years, and a sense of hopelessness had almost set in within the fraternity. Now that this milestone has been crossed, Ghosal must contend with a bigger opponent: time.
The veteran squash player will be 42 by the time the LA Games come around. This isn’t an age bracket too many professional players belong to in competitive squash.
Colombian Miquel Rodriguez, currently ranked 13th in the world, will be 42 in five years, while world No. 8 Tarek Momen of Egypt will turn 40. Ghosal believes that the chance to make the Olympic podium is the dangling carrot most players will use to prolong their careers.
He thinks players will want to be in Los Angeles in 2028, irrespective of their age.
“I think you might have a few when the Olympics come around. At least people are going to try. Players will give up World Championship titles for that Olympic gold. It remains to be seen now whether people will make it and be on the podium at 40, 41, 42, or whatever the age is,” he says with a wry smile.
But does he have five more years to give to squash? To chase a singles gold at the Worlds, or better yet, the Olympics? Can his family pull through?
“All these years, I’ve been all in. It’s something that I have to grapple with, something that I have to sit down with my wife and figure out—whether we, as a family, can make it work over the next five years. It’s not an easy call or easy decision,” Ghosal explains. He cites tennis legend Roger Federer as an example.
“Someone like Federer, an absolute sporting inspiration, would have played longer if his body allowed him to because he’s unbelievable. However, his body couldn’t keep up, so Federer didn’t want to just stick around and be one of the people in the mix. He wanted to be THE person, as he was for so many years,” he says.
“If I do the Olympics, I want to do it only if I have a shot. I don’t want to do it just to be there. Of course, being an Olympian is a big honour, but I don’t think I’ll be putting in the effort over the next five years just to be an Olympian. I want to go in with a shot. Physically, whether I can sustain it till I’m 41–42, and mentally too, are all things to think about. I’ve done this for 20 years. Can I be there for the next five years and be ready to fight a war every time I go to court? Because that’s what it takes,” he adds.
Towards that end, Ghosal has been picky with his tournament schedule. He puts his longevity down to that, along with injury management and a more carefully curated nutrition regimen.
“I think it’s about taking care of the body. Love for the sport is a more mental thing to help you stay with the sport. I think the injury part is that you do everything that you can control. I’ve been working with my trainer, David Brown, for 10 years. We do a lot of things that have no impact on the body outside the court because there is so much impact on the joints when we’re working on the court. Rest and recovery are things we work on very acutely. Nutrition too. I’ve paid a lot more attention in the past three years, and it’s helped put me in a place where I can perform at my best,” he says. “Over the last two to three years, I’ve been mindful of my scheduling. I am one of the players on the PSA Tour with the lowest number of tournaments played in the top 20. I space out competitions as much as I possibly can to give my mind and body the time to recover, recoup, and be in a good frame of mind to play,” he adds.
Ghosal’s composure, courteousness, and maturity are traits that have earned him respect both on and off the court. He is a mentor to a young Indian contingent that features the likes of Tanvi Khanna, Anahat Singh, and Abhay Singh. He is quick to accept that his Instagram reel skills are nowhere close to those of his budding colleagues, and he says the talents around him keep him grounded and cynicism at bay.
“I don’t think I have appreciated what I’ve done up to now, and I want it to be that way because I feel like that is what has kept me grounded and kept me in this frame of mind to improve every day. If I get caught up in my achievements, I won’t see the need to do anything anymore. I won’t be able to realise my full potential. I truly believe that I have more in my locker and that it would be the biggest regret in my life if I finished my career and I didn’t achieve that potential,” Ghosal says.
His self-actualisation vision board is pretty simple. Of course, the glitter of an Olympic medal would be great. But Ghosal hopes to bow out of squash after breaking into the world top five. He would also like to improve his World Championships quarterfinal finish with a medal.
“Hopefully, those things will happen for me, and hopefully the best part of my career will be that,” he said.
Ghosal at Asian Games
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