THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:After giving his younger peer a crash course on the virtues of leg-power and brain-work across the glass cage, Saurav Ghosal retreats to a practice court. The pint-sized World No 21 is not exactly expended—a straight-set win in less than half an hour wasn’t exactly taxing—but he strictly adheres to the stretching routine. Patiently waiting for him outside the court is a visibly tired teenager, whom he has just beaten.
As soon as Saurav gets up from the floor and wipes his sweaty face, the teenager goes up to him, ever so reverentially and politely. For the next 20 minutes, Saurav turns a dyed-in-the-wool teacher and his disciple a studious student of the game. The Indian top seed demonstrates how to cover the court laterally, one of his strengths, before he explains the nuances of the grip. The teenager dutifully listens. After 20-odd minutes, Saurav shakes his hand and gives him a tight hug.
This mentorship is something Saurav relishes, but he admits he is not a natural teacher. “I don’t think I’m an exactly a good communicator, but whenever younger players ask something about the game or technique, I always try to explain the nuances as best as I can. It’s something new for (me), but that’s a responsibility I really enjoy,” he admits to TNIE.
A decade ago, the shoes were on the other foot. Old-timers were accustomed to a chubby-cheeked, bubbly teen nearly nagging the senior pros with doubts. “Until a few years ago, I was the junior-most player in the team and I remember shooting question after question to the likes of Ritwik (Bhattacharya) and Siddharth (Suchde). Now it’s the other way around. Youngsters like Harinderpal Sandhu and Ramit (Tandon) seek advice and I’m bound to oblige. Or if I detect something deficient in their approach or technique, I go up to them and advise them,’ he says.
But Saurav, though a perfectionist, promptly acknowledges that he is far from a perfect player. “You learn something every day. At no point in your career can you say that you have learnt everything. That’s one thing Malcolm (Willstrop) has always emphasised, and every day you try to get closer to that state called perfection,” he philosophises.
The shift to Willstrop’ academy in Leeds was not only a career-altering break but also perspective-defining move. “I wouldn’t have been what I am now without practising at the academy. The exposure I got was terrific. And of course I made a lot of friends,” he reflects.
The list of friends include Malcolm’s son James, a former World No 1, who had also authored the book, A Shot and a Ghost. Touted as “a year in the brutal world of professional squash”, Willstrop pours forth from his soul on a range of topics with startling honesty. “It’s a very racy and wholehearted account on his life on the circuit. But knowing him, it’s not at all surprising the things he had written. I can relate to that. It’s like a life in a suitcase,” Saurav opines.