Image Credits: @Arnaav
Arnaav Sareen is a part of the young exciting crop of talent in Indian Squash, one that continues to develop with every passing day.
An elegant, unique and skilful Squash talent, Arnaav Sareen was the youngest player (at 15 years) to be selected to represent India at the WSF Men’s World Junior Individual Championship (U-19), Malaysia 2019, is slowly establishing himself as a player in his own right.
Squash was never the first thing on Arnaav’s mind during his particularly early days but this did not prevent his natural talents from shining through – Squash – an extremely competitive and fast-moving game. It was this diligence that led to Arnaav mastering the skills of playing the game. At the age of 12, he was started playing in the national circuit and a career in the game began to distinguish itself as a genuine possibility.
From a tender age, Arnaav had been lauded for his ability to take challenges into his stride without being fazed. Having captained school football team at a young age, Arnaav’s leadership skills are there to see on the squash court as well.
Arnaav has always been a person of impressive wisdom and maturity. Reflecting on his younger days, the Pune native has reiterated the importance that he placed upon his education outside of squash, setting him up for a bright future from the outset.
At 13, he played his first international tournament at the Dutch Junior Open 2017, Amsterdam where he finished as runner-up.
Shortly after recognised on the international stage, then came the national calling as he represented India for the Asian Junior Individual Championship for 3 consecutive years. By just 15-years-old, Arnaav became the youngest player (at 15 years) to be selected to represent India at the WSF Men’s World Junior Individual Championship (U-19), Malaysia 2019.
So far in his nascent career, he has a total of 16 titles to his name, including local tourneys such as CCI Western India Squash Tournament 2019 title, 4th NSCI All India Junior and Senior Open title, Mumbai, 2019, Maharashtra State Squash Championship, U-19 category, Pune, 2019, and I-Squash Pune Junior Open title, Pune 2019 and there are likely more coming.
Arnaav’s favourite squash player is Ramy Ashour and he likes him because of the extraordinary skills he brings to the court. Rafael Nadal is also one of his biggest sporting idols, he also looks up to the current World No.2 squash player Ali Farag, immensely too.
Arnaav’s squash intelligence is what impresses one the most –calm disciplined approach, blistering backhand volley drop, combined with a sublime reading of the game, the youngster has shown maturity well beyond his years.
The St. Mary’s Junior College, Pune student appears to be destined for great things. The next step, for now must be the establishment of his place regularly in the national team, but there is no limit to what the India No.1 (U-17) can achieve.
How did Squash happen? Did you play any other sports growing up? And how would you define your journey till now?
I was the captain of my school football team and trained for football every day. It was the monsoon season and due to the heavy rains, I was not able to go for football practice, so a friend of mine decided we should try squash as his father played at the Poona Club. I had no idea what squash was and how it was played but I was very excited to discover something new, the moment I started playing (although I was not very good at the beginning) I loved the sport and couldn't get enough. Slowly and gradually, I started spending more and more of my time focusing on improving myself, learning the game of squash. As cliché as it sounds, the rest is history.
I played a lot of sports growing up, right from swimming, football, tennis to cricket and everything in between. I have always been passionate about sports and have had the privilege to try out multiple sports before choosing to focus on squash.
My journey has been full of challenges, I started playing the sport at a comparatively older age than my competitors. It was not before 11 or 12 years of age that I started playing the national circuit, when my peers had been playing since the age of 6 years and had participated in multiple tournaments in the U-11 and U-9 age bracket. Thus, it was a challenge at first to move up the rankings, but with motivation, dedication and hard work, I finally managed to achieve my dream which was to represent my country at international events.
Who has been your idol/role model growing up? Any other source of inspiration that you have had? The biggest influence on your career so far?
I have had many idols growing up. A squash player that has really inspired me while I was growing up is Ramy Ashour aka “The Artist”. He is an absolute legend in the squash world and undoubtedly one of the best players to ever hold a racket. But what really inspired me was the way he fought adversity and came back stronger after every injury that he had; he has inspired me to be a fighter not only on the squash court but also in life.
Rafa Nadal is also one of my big sporting idols, I look up to and respect Ali Farag (current World No.2 squash player) immensely too. These are a few people who have inspired me.
The biggest influence on my career has to be that of my parents and my coach. My parents have always supported me and done everything they possibly can so that I can enjoy the sport and do well in competition at the same time. They have always been by my side and encouraged me, it is because of them I have reached this far and I can't thank them enough for everything they have done for me. My coach Deepak Moolani has also played a pivotal role and guided me through thick and thin. I have learnt a lot about squash and much more under him, and I definitely would not be in this position without his help.
How would you describe your playing style, and which Squash player would you compare it to?
I would describe my playing style as a Grinder. I love playing out long tough rallies putting the ball in the right places, not too attacking but patiently waiting for the right opportunity to attack a loose ball. This puts a lot of work into my opponent’s legs and plays immensely on fitness and strength. I think I can compare this playing style to Paul Coll (he is much better at it).
Competing at such a young age, how did you juggle studies with sport? How supportive is your school/college in your sport?
I have always tried to find the right balance between academics and sport. It has always been really important to me to do well in my studies and at school in general. It is never easy balancing high-level sport and academics but if you work hard and organize yourself, setting daily and weekly goals, it is not impossible. I got 97.2% in my 10th std ICSE examination in addition to being one of the top junior squash players in the country and winning 8 national and international level tournaments the same year.
My school is very supportive of my sport and helps me in every way possible and I am very thankful for that.
How is Squash training different in India compared to other African and European countries? Which style do you prefer and why?
Training abroad especially in England or The USA is very physical and fitness driven, having good racket skills is a prerequisite, but a high level of fitness and strength can take your game to a whole new level. I feel Indian training methods are also improving rapidly and we are on par with any of the other countries in terms of junior coaching methods. If I had to choose, I would say that it is important to integrate fitness into our daily coaching regime.
Do you have a favourite win?
My favourite win was hands down the time I beat Joachim Chuah of Malaysia in the semifinals of the Asian Junior Squash Championship. It was undoubtedly one of the biggest matches I have played in my life. I ended up winning 3-0 I played very clinical squash and executed my game plan to perfection not giving him a chance to get ahead. He was the higher seeded player and it was one of the best wins of my career.
What was your longest rally? And how do you control nerves during a long rally?
The longest rally I have played was around 2 minutes in duration.
According to me, if you have a clear and calm mind and stick to your game plan and strategy your nerves remain under control. I personally really enjoy playing long rallies and putting the ball in all corners of the court, it is one of the ways I enjoy playing squash and so I don't get nervous.
Is it important to have a favourite shot? What’s yours then?
I believe it's important to have a favourite shot, a go-to shot, one that will not let you down when you need it to work. My favourite shot is the backhand volley drop, I have spent countless hours trying to master it. I didn't have the best volley technique in the past but I have worked on myself and tried to improve it.
I'm sure there are times during your training that you aren't achieving the results that you want. What do you do to lift your spirits during such times?
During tough times I find happiness in my friends, training partners and family. If I am not happy with the way the training session was, we play a few fun games inside the court which helps to lighten up our spirits as well as getting my flow right. This helps a lot.
If you were to change any aspects of your game or physical conditioning during your formative years, what would that be?
I think I could improve on my forehand swing and drops as well. As for physical conditioning, it would have been great if I started working on building strength and endurance during my early formative years.
If the opponent has taken a sizable lead, what is your approach? Try and play safe or take the risky route and be ultra-aggressive?
When the opponent has taken a lead, I try to slowly rebuild. Play a few safe rallies and hit shots with a margin for error. I keep believing in myself and never give up trying to retrieve every shot the opponent hits and waiting for a good opportunity to counter-attack.
Any memories from school/college that you cherish a lot?
I definitely miss everything about school and college. I miss meeting my friends and the countless moments we shared together. In school, we eagerly looked forward to our games lesson in which we would play football or basketball. It was on the sports field that I grew closer to my friends and forged unbreakable bonds. These are some things I cherish a lot.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on the court?
The most embarrassing thing that has happened to me on the court was the time when my shoe came off at mid-rally and I had to wear it during the rally to not lose the point. But the other shoe came off during the same rally and I lost the point. It was hilarious.
I have noticed that you are a relatively calm and quiet player. Do you think this is beneficial to your game? Does it bother you when your opponent is very loud?
It is definitely beneficial to my game, being calm helps to think clearly through tough situations whilst being angry clouds your judgement. It helps me stay focused and take things as they come one at a time. No, it does not bother me if my opponent is loud, I just have to focus on my game and not get frazzled.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the distant future?
I would work as hard as I can to keep playing Squash and representing my country at international events and making my family and friends proud. If squash does get recognized as an Olympic sport it is my dream to maybe represent India and win a medal at the Olympics in the distant future.
Dream Mixed Doubles Partner – Nicol David.
TV Show? – Sherlock Holmes.
Which celebrity do you want to team up with for a doubles match? – Elon Musk.
More drills or more practice matches? – Drills.
Backhand, forehand, serve, volley – which comes easier to you? – Backhand surely.
Mistake made most often during tournaments? – Drinking less water.