Borja keeps his eyes on the ball as he embraces change and imminent fatherhood
By LIESL GOECKER – Squash Mad Correspondent in India
The World No. 13 of squash, who just won his first tournament in two years in Mumbai, talks about stretching, ageing, and playing in India.
“Can we do the interview in 20, 30 minutes? I need to do my stretches.”
For the next half hour I watch Borja Golán, the Spanish squash player seeded first in the CCI International, a $35,000 tournament that just wrapped up in Mumbai, bend and contort in ways that look painful to a layman like me.
But for him, it’s comfortable, steadying even. He says he’s been doing this stretching routine since he was nine, when his coaches told him to always stretch before and after a workout.
Then, it was a purely physical regimen, a way to stay loose and avoid injuries. Now, it’s more than that. When you’re the World No. 13 in your chosen sport, there’s always someone who wants your time and attention – the coach, who wants to talk about improving, the fan, who wants an autograph—the writer, who wants an interview. But when Golán is stretching, it’s just him, his thoughts and the gentle tug of limbering muscles.
“Stretching is the only time of day I can be by myself, thinking my own thoughts,” he says. “It’s good for the body and for the mind.”
He only has eyes for the ball and his opponent. His focus is laser-like, palpable. Is it the stretching, then, that’s the secret to the intensity of his concentration, the key to his success? Golán laughs at the suggestion.
“Stretching is not going to make a good player alone,” he says. And no, he adds, the concentration is separate, something to be repeated and honed as much as the ability to touch one’s toes.
If he were to give any advice to India’s junior players, it would be this: “Just enjoy it,” he says. “Play squash because you want to play squash. Work hard. Every day, you have to be serious. Every minute on court, concentrate on the goal. It’s not only about time on court, it’s also about focus. It’s only possible if you give 100 per cent.”
Golán says that Indian kids have good role models in the sport of squash already. He’s been on the tour long enough to play with both Ritwik Bhattacharya, former World No. 37 and promoter of the JSW Indian Squash Circuit (of which the CCI International is a part) and Saurav Ghosal, current World No. 15, who he faced in the CCI International final on Sunday.
“Both are good, strong and professional players,” Golán says. “Then you have the upcoming lot, Mahesh Mangaonkar, Harry Sandhu, Kush Kumar. They’re really good for India. I think they can go really high in the ranking like Saurav.”
Golán’s appreciation for India goes beyond the professional. He’s played in India a couple of times before, most recently in 2011 as part of the Punj Lloyd Squash Masters tournament in Delhi, and finds himself drawn back.
“I like India,” Golán says. “The food is really good. The character of the people is good also, very supportive, very relaxed. I like the Indian culture a lot. It’s really good that people are trying to develop the sport in India. I can see this tournament is really well organized. So just thanks to the organizers and sponsors JSW and Reliance for bringing us here.”
It may be the last India sees of Golán for a while, though. The 32-year-old will be taking a few weeks off after this tournament for the birth of his first child, a daughter. He says it will be different competing as a father; he generally spends half of the year traveling to and from tournaments around the world, and is now planning to cut back on his time away from home—but not that much.
“I’ll probably need some breath from the baby, too,” he says, laughing.
Golán is entering a new phase in life, of which fatherhood is only a part. He talks frankly of aging as a professional athlete, while still trying to stay on top.
“I’m 32 now, in the last part of my career,” he says. “Training is different now. Before, it was lots of physical exercise – running, weights, etc. Now, I’m cutting the quantity of physical training. With experience, you don’t need to train as hard. You have to keep pushing, but be more clever about it.”
So it’s cleverness that Golán brings to the court, as well as focus. It’s a strong combination, and for India’s Saurav Ghosal, on Sunday, it proved unbeatable.
Golán took the final 3-1, always seeming to control the play, even in the third game, which Ghosal snatched away from him in extra points.
“I knew I’d have to play my best squash to beat Saurav,” Golán said. “He has had a tougher week. And I think maybe that was the difference today. Mentally, he was a bit more tired from the days before and maybe I took advantage of that.”
Ghosal had grueling 5-game matches in both the quarter- and semifinal round, while Golán took his quarterfinal with a pat 3-0 and only played one and a half games in the semi before his opponent conceded after an injury.
“Credit to Borja, he played well,” Ghosal said after the final. “I had two hard matches this week, but, you know, that’s what you train for. I just couldn’t play well enough, for long enough, to beat him. Congrats to him.”
It was Golán’s first final and first title since 2013, ending a two year draught for the athlete, who reached a career-high ranking of World #5 in 2014. But Golán says none of that was on his mind during the match. That practiced concentration trumped instinct, worry – even a longing to be elsewhere.
“I want to do the best I can now, but it’s different than before,” Golán said. “I would prefer to be with my wife at the moment, but it’s important for me to be here, playing. So I want to do well here, and next week in Macau, before taking some time off.”
When home is calling your name, it’s nice to be able to return with something in hand.
“I dedicate this trophy to Carlos (Cornes Ribadas), because he’s always a great support and we’re great friends, but also to my wife, Chelo, and my future daughter, Manuela.”
The CCI International is part of the JSW Indian Squash Circuit, which continues throughout this month and into October with two more tournaments: Kolkata International, a 35k Men’s tournament at the Calcutta Racket Club in Kolkata from September 22-27; and the JSW Indian Squash Circuit IV at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai from October 18-22.
Follow the action at www.indiansquashcircuit.com, or on Facebook (facebook.com/indiansquashcircuit) or Twitter (@INSquashCircuit).
Pictures by NITESH SQUARE