Despite having been one of the top junior squash players in the world about 10 years ago, Aditya Jagtap ’15, a native of Mumbai, said he was overwhelmed during the U.S. college recruiting process. Now he’s helping to ensure that India’s burgeoning young squash players won’t have the same problem.
Jagtap has returned to Mumbai and started a career in the family business, Aastrid International, a manufacturer for the pharmaceutical industry. Now the business manager of Aastrid Life Sciences, the group’s research and development arm, Jagtap has added squash to the family business – Aastrid Recruiting. The goal: Help India’s up-and-coming squash players understand the nuances of the college recruiting process.
“There are so many talented and smart kids in India, but they just don’t have the resources and they just don’t understand the process,” said Jagtap, a three-time selection to the All-Ivy League squash team after posting a 53-15 record at Cornell. “So I started the company three years ago to help them with essays, (figuring out) financial aid and giving them advice on what colleges are best for them.”
It also gives Cornell’s squash program an invaluable resource 7,755 miles away. While Jagtap’s venture works with all sorts of colleges and universities, he wears his self-described affinity to his alma mater on his sleeve.
“Having gone through the whole process and been a student at Cornell, he has firsthand experience of what type of athlete and student we are looking for to continue to improve the program,” says David Palmer, the James Broadhead ’57 Head Coach of Squash.
One example of a successful introduction is fellow Mumbai native Veer Chotrani ’23, last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, the only freshman on the 2020 All-Ivy League team and the Big Red’s first College Squash Association All-American since Jagtap.
With an assist from Jagtap’s unofficial ambassadorship, recruiting is handled by Palmer and assistant coach Mark Burke. Jagtap says having the opportunity to train under Palmer, a two-time world champion squash player, carries a lot of weight for the junior players Cornell hopes to recruit.
“Imagine you’re playing tennis and Roger Federer is your coach for four years in college,” Jagtap said. “You’d jump at that chance.”
He speaks from experience. After graduating with a degree in business administration and management in 2015, Jagtap took a job in Boston and turned his focus away from high-level squash.
At that time, Palmer was hired to take over Big Red squash, and he connected with Jagtap to talk about the program. Palmer asked Jagtap if he would be willing to come back to campus for a few weeks to help Palmer get acquainted with the program, while perhaps getting a few pointers on his game.
“So I thought, ‘Sure, it would be fun to come back to Cornell,’” Jagtap said. “David then gave me the confidence that I was not as far away from the level of the [Professional Squash Association’s] World Tour as I thought, and he pushed me to try to get back to it.”
What started off as a three-week visit became a two-year student/mentor relationship, stoking Jagtap’s competitive fire.
“David’s game style definitely rubbed off on me,” Jagtap says. “He is 6-feet plus like me, and we both like to take control of the center of the court and stay ahead of the opponent. He drilled those things into me until it became second nature.”
Jagtap started to compete regularly on the PSA World Tour and worked his way up the rankings.
“He was always very talented with his racquet skills,” says Palmer. “Where I helped him the most was on the physical side and tactical parts of the game. He worked very hard with me and is a great example to current team members of what dedication can achieve.”
Jagtap reached a career-high ranking of No. 62 in the world in early 2020, which put him on the precipice of regularly qualifying for the PSA’s most lucrative tier of tournaments.
But everything changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSA’s tournament schedule came to a halt, and Jagtap saw the wait for normalcy would be lengthy.
“We figured it would take at least a year to 18 months for a vaccine to come out, and until a vaccine comes out we knew nothing would be the same,” Jagtap said. “So I made a conscious choice to come back (to Mumbai) and start working.”
Part of that work is acting as a middle man between India’s promising junior players and U.S. college programs, through Aastrid Recruiting. An even bigger part is working in a business that specializes in being a middle man of pharmaceuticals. When Jagtap’s father, Ravindra, started the company in 1997, Aastrid connected suppliers to customers.
As the business grew, it started a research and development arm, Aastrid Life Sciences, that creates intermediates – things like dyes and pigments that go into making active pharmaceutical ingredients. “We contract manufacturing with some of the biggest companies in the world,” Jagtap says.
Aastrid currently has four manufacturing plants in Mumbai, and construction has begun on a fifth.
“I think internally the focus has shifted toward the next stage of my life – which is work, and I recently got married,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to travel six, seven, eight months a year like I was before. I’m just trying to find a better balance.”
Now he’s leveraging the biggest lesson he took from Cornell: the art of time management, which he learned by juggling tough academic demands, rigorous training and long-distance travel to matches.
“It was so easy to fall behind in classes that you had to be superefficient, organized and on top of things at all times,” he said. “I use those same skills and discipline now to manage my squash, family business and recruiting business. And since I got married, now I need to be even better at designating family time amongst all of this.”
The pandemic continues to restrict his connection to squash. In India, squash courts are closed. He hasn’t played in a single tournament since March 2020. And the World Tour has canceled the biggest tournaments, in which he’d planned on competing.
Even so, he does one workout session a day to keep in shape, and continues to talk about Cornell with talented young squash players.
“I know they will have a very fulfilling experience there,” he said. “I get a lot of kids asking me about Cornell. It’s a good time for Cornell squash, for sure.”
This article is adapted from “Men’s squash’s Jagtap ’15 proving worth of the middle man” by Brandon Thomas, assistant director of Cornell Athletic Communications.