Calcutta boy Ramit Tandon is fast climbing up the squash charts

There is something earnest about Ramit Tandon that strikes you instantly. Genial, confident and candid, the 25-year-old started playing squash full-time in September last year and has quickly moved up to become world number 65. Before he left for a training camp to Chennai ahead of the Commonwealth Games next month, t2 caught up with the boy from Lord Sinha Road. 

  • Published 27.03.18
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Ramit Tandon at The Saturday Club. Picture: Arnab Mondal

There is something earnest about Ramit Tandon that strikes you instantly. Genial, confident and candid, the 25-year-old started playing squash full-time in September last year and has quickly moved up to become world number 65. Before he left for a training camp to Chennai ahead of the Commonwealth Games next month, t2 caught up with the boy from Lord Sinha Road. 

How excited are you about the Commonwealth Games?

I am not feeling the butterflies yet!  Once I get to the village and I see the other athletes… maybe then it will hit me. I haven’t processed the thought of being in Australia. I am happy to be home for 10 days with my family. The last week or so, I have been pushing myself hard. Also, squash is such an individual sport, you always enjoy being part of a team. That energy, where you have other people supporting you, means more than being on your own. I am trying not to stress too much. Of course, we will give our best. It is the biggest event for us this year.

When did you start playing squash?

My dad (Raman Tandon, The Saturday Club president) used to play squash. So, I followed him to the club and slowly got interested. By the time I was eight or nine, I started playing. 

What’s great about the game?

Well, now my life revolves around squash. The last 10-15 years have been only squash. It’s been a big part of my life. The reason I like it is, it’s fast… in an hour you know the result. It’s a lot of fast thinking. My personality is similar. It’s taught me a lot of life lessons. There are so many different aspects of the game that have to be right to get to the end result. 

Take us through your career till now… 

I was a top-ranked junior in India from 2010-2012. I moved to the US for my education and graduated from Columbia University, with statistics. I was one of the best college squash players over there. At that point I wasn’t sure if I would play professionally because it is a hard sport to jump into. Cricket and tennis were more out there, more popular. It was a risk and I wanted to hedge myself before taking a risk. I felt I needed to finish my education first. 
I worked in finance in New York for two years. Hedge fund job vs professional squash player… pick one… it’s a no-brainer. I mean I really wanted to play squash, but also I wanted to experience the work environment. While I worked there, I kept playing in a few tournaments here and there and got a few good results. The people I met at the hedge fund, like my CEO, were very supportive of my decision to go give it a shot. So, September 2017 I decided that I was going to start playing full-time. I am based in New York and Calcutta and I shuttle. I started off as 400 or something in the world and now I am 65. 

Wow!

I have the belief. I am happy about the fact that I moved so quickly. When you start doing something full-time, there is a different sort of pressure to it. It’s hard when you’ve been sitting at the desk for two years crunching numbers. 

What was the turning point? 

So, Ali Farag, who is the current world number three, I beat him in a tournament in the US while working. I was ranked almost 500 in the world. 

I would train quite a bit during the weekends and about three times during the week. Ramy Ashour, who is like the Roger Federer of squash, moved to New York and we became very close and we would train together on a daily basis. When I started working, I would train three-four times a week with him. Training with him gave me a lot of confidence. I think he was a big reason I was able to maintain my game while working.

People started talking after I beat Ali Farag. The buzz around me… people at work would be like… ‘Why don’t you go and play?’ But for me, it was very risky. Also, you are more comfortable on court when you know you have a job and you are not worried about winning or losing… you don’t have to worry about paying rent. I enjoyed that mindset. But then a lot of people around me started telling me… and I started to believe in it as well. I had a few more events which went well. 
Then in a game, I lost to this guy who was among the top 20 in the world. I lost to him in five games. That’s when I realised that I was losing out on match experience.  I was playing one or two tournaments a year, which wasn’t enough to compete at that level. I was enjoying my job, but I realised that squash gave me more happiness. 

How has life changed?

It’s been a change of lifestyle for me. From sitting at my desk for eight to 10 hours a day to hitting the gym in the morning… then squash… then fitness again. 

So, a much healthier lifestyle… 

I don’t think it’s healthy (smiles). People think an athlete’s life is very healthy, it is not. It’s torture for the body. I can sense it… when I am hating the work I am doing, the tournaments go well after that. If I am enjoying the preparations and not pushing myself hard enough, my tournament doesn’t go well. In six months, I have realised that. We overdo it for sure and you need to because the competition is so high. 

A lot of the hard training is based around the physical stuff and that’s the hard part. At night you are sleepless because you’ve been through so much. If you are a professional, there is no day off. At this level, no coach can tell you X amount of work is ideal for you. As a player, you’ve got to figure it out… how hard you can be pushed, when you need to slow down. 

In the first phase, I went for a lot of tournaments where I overdid it. I realised I wasn’t as fresh as I should be. Sometimes, I didn’t train that hard. It’s all about finding that balance. In matches too, it is a fine line… when to be aggressive, when to stay calm. I am still learning every day. The first few months was just about finding a routine. Now, I think I have just stabilised into a routine. The challenge has been to get used to all the physical work, the travelling and finding the exact balance… which I am still figuring out. 

What is your workout routine like?

I play for about a couple of hours in the morning, followed by a fitness session… could be gym or sprinting for another hour or two hours. Gym is at The Saturday Club… I work with Anwar Wahhab. He has been with me since I was eight or nine. By the time I am out, it is 1pm-2pm. Then it is time for lunch and then I am back training around 4pm. In the evening it is mostly skill and then maybe a relaxation session… swimming. I am back home by 8pm-8.30pm. 

You need a strong core to prevent injuries. My sport requires a lot of speed and agility. It is all about developing strength without getting too bulky. For me, it is a lot of leg work and a lot of core work. I do sprinting sessions for the cardio. I do agility and footwork sessions for the quick turnings. I enjoy this the most. I do swimming mostly as recovery and cardio. 

Have you picked up anything from Ramy Ashour?

He is very unique. Most of it is the mental side. I want to go into a match feeling how you go to office. On match days, I still wake up feeling it is an event, a festival. And that is never good. 

What is your bigger goal?

By this year end, I would like to get into the 30s. I am happy with the progress so far. I feel I can still do better.

So, you are not easily happy?

I am not. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing. (Smiles)

KNOW RAMIT

  • Joined PSA World Tour in September 2017
  • Current world rank: 65
  • Was the ‘top male player’ of the Indian team that finished 2nd at the U-21 World Cup in 2012
  • Won 2 PSA world titles in 2017 
  • Won 6 junior national titles
  • Captain, Indian junior team (2010-2012)
  • Asian Junior team championship winner and individual championship runner-up

I unwind: By following the markets! 
Music fave: Marshmello.
Fave actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Fave actress: Deepika Padukone, and Alia Bhatt because she watched my match in Bombay.

Saionee Chakraborty

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