Velavan Senthilkumar has been having his first and best year as a full-time professional squash player.
He completed his graduation from Columbia University in the U.S. last year and began this year outside 200 in the PSA World rankings. He’s now ranked 66, courtesy four PSA titles.
One striking aspect of his game this season is that he’s been nerveless in crunch moments, that’s enabled him to manage come-from-behind victories.
He rallied from two games down to put it across Miles Jenkins of England, 11-13, 12-14, 11-7, 12-10, 11-6, in the 69-minute quarterfinal of the Gibraltar Open he won in July.
After he’d won his maiden National title on Thursday (November 23), beating defending champion Abhay Singh in the men’s final, he said he was proud that he could “push through mentally.”
He won the first game 12-10 from 10-all after Abhay saved a game point from 9-10 down.
Velavan saved two game points from 8-10 down to make it 10-all before clinching the third game and thus the match.
“I would say I worked hard on my physical and mental fitness. I’m better at it now, compared to (how he was at it) before - like, I’m able to keep pushing through for a longer period,” he said on Tuesday.
Asked if he could speak about anything specific he did concerning his mental fitness, he revealed: “I think, a lot of, like, meditation; just, like, different techniques of meditation.
“It was like an everyday thing - in the morning and the evening. Probably, like, 10 to 15 minutes. Probably, a bit of visualisation as well. I visualise myself on the court and how I play. It’s just some visualisation techniques.
Asked if he envisages taking on that particular opponent on matchdays, he said: “Obviously. Like, how I would see myself playing the match. I would see myself playing the match from inside the court, and from outside the court from the spectators’ point of view.”
Velavan graduated in Psychology. Asked if that helps in any way, he said: “I mean, it’s just more information. I understood the brain better, I would say. And how it works.
“I would just say that it was easier for me to understand how my mind was in certain situations. I just felt like I could know. I was aware of it easier than usual. If I didn’t do psychology, I might have taken more time to be aware of it. That way it’s helpful.”
On handling the nervy crunch situations, he said: “I would say that’s something I’ve been working on - to be more present, and just focus on every single point rather than the outcome. I think that’s helped me to play every point the same way irrespective of what the score is.”
The 25-year-old has been visiting the Barcelona Global Squash (BGS) Academy for training and has been a part of the Dutch and the German leagues since September. He has played one match in the Dutch league, and no match yet in the German league since he’s been travelling for tournaments. He highlights the concept of league as a point of difference between the European and the Indian squash.
“First of all, in Europe, there’s something called the leagues in which different clubs play. All these leagues have these players who also play the professional tour. That way, I feel like there’s more exposure for a professional player to be training in Europe, for sure.
“Just having matches played with a variety of players and training with them gives you different perspectives about the game, and maybe you can just learn more from it.”
Velavan is looking forward to playing his first-ever PSA World Tour Silver tournament and the WSF men’s World team championship in New Zealand next month. His immediate aim is to break into the top 50 in the World rankings.
His long-term goals are to represent and win a medal for India in the Olympics and to become the World No. 1.
So, how did he feel when squash was included in the Olympics?
“I was just very, very happy. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it; it was a shock to me! It’s just a huge thing, not just for me but for the entire sport.
“This is something that I’ve been waiting for, I would say, my entire squash career; we’ve just been waiting for this since the time I was like nine or ten years old, thinking when squash would make it to the Olympics. It finally has!”
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