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Sport

Let’s Talk Squash

Interest in the sport has grown thanks to viral videos and its strong Egyptian contingent

Last month history was made thanks to the skills of married couple Ali Farag and Nour El Tayeb as they won the individual men’s and women’s titles at the US Open in Philadelphia. Those names probably don’t ring a bell and when you come to think of the US Open, many immediately think about tennis. However, what we’re talking about now is squash.

A sport that many consider one for the older generations among us, or one that is played in private schools behind closed doors, however squash is on the rise with an estimated 500,000 people playing the sport across 8,500 courts in the United Kingdom alone.

“Ali Farag at only 25, and Nour El Tayeb, 24, only got married last summer and made history across world sport by taking Major Titles on the very same day.”

Squash is blowing up worldwide too; a massive Egyptian influence is leading to their domination in both the men’s and women’s world rankings. Squash is a solo sport and if you don’t know how to play, it is pretty simple. By hitting the ball to where your opponent is not can always be a good place to start, but when two of you are trying to do the same thing it can get tricky.

Ali Farag (left) and Nour El Tayeb (right) celebrate their US Open title wins.

Ali Farag at only 25, and Nour El Tayeb, 24, only got married last summer and made history across world sport by taking Major Titles on the very same day, with only a couple of hours between their respective triumphs. Both players played opponents who were considered to be better with higher seedings and current world standings. However both prevailed, with Ali Farag winning in three games to love, while earlier Nour El Tayeb took her final three games to two.

Something that I find so amazing about this fairy tale story is how Ali Farag was able to keep his emotions in check. He still played arguably some of the best squash he has ever played, which can be partially accredited to the constant release of emotion built up from watching his wife win the same final minutes before. Whatever way you look at it, the history made could arguably come down to one saying, ‘behind every successful man, there is a successful woman.’

As if fairy tale stories aren’t enough to entice you into the world of squash, then do me a favour and look at some of the insane rallies that go viral across Facebook or YouTube. You can see players diving metres across the court only to return the ball and repeat the same thing two seconds later. New Zealand player Paul Coll is most infamous for this and if you have the time to YouTube his name along with the England legend James Willstrop then I challenge you to be disappointed.

The Professional Squash Association (PSA) is the governing body of squash that sets up the lucrative tournaments that the world’s best can participate in, but what’s better is the coverage that PSA provides on their YouTube channel and their website. Providing coverage at events worldwide is hard for such a small sport, but they’ve found a way to do so that matches the quality of many, much larger, sports coverage channels.

Squash starlet Diego Elias in action

Forbes Magazine called squash “the world’s healthiest sport” and although I am a keen squash player myself, I can be considered bias. But it is the fast-paced and adrenaline-fuelled moments that keep me returning to the court. Now I’ve only been playing for a year and a bit, but as much as I’d love to think I’m good I’m far from it. I play older men in a league, who frankly should be at home with their grandkids, but they can make very light work of me which to be honest is embarrassing. Another reason I love the sport is because of its timelessness. I can play till I am 60+ assuming my racket skills are still adequate. Although my mobility will definitely take a tumble, but that’s life.

“Egypt runs squash; currently 6 out of the 10 top players in the world are Egyptian and not many players can stop them.”

The sport features professional players of all ages such as the 19-year old Diego Elias, Peru’s National Champion, to our very own Nick Matthew, who can still trouble the best, even at 37 years old, an age which even in football is considered ancient. Although Nick Matthew is retiring at the end of the season after racking up an incredible 33 World Tour Titles, he is still in a ridiculous physical condition. A previous World Number 1, Matthew’s renowned tactic was to essentially outlast his opponent, playing long, tiring rallies that would last minutes making the games last hours. Eventually the fatigued opponent would make more and more errors, often handing the game and match to Nick Matthew.

Former World No.1 Nick Matthew

Times have changed since Nick Matthew was World Number 1. The court is currently ruled by a wave of Egyptian talent, in the same form that China rules the badminton or table tennis world. Egypt runs squash; currently 6 out of the 10 top players in the world are Egyptian and not many players can stop them. Last month there were three major tournaments with the US Open, the St. George’s Channel VAS and the Qatar Classic.

This is a lot of travelling for players and a lot of matches, which are in a best of 5 format. You would not think that the same players would succeed each time, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Current World Number 2, Mohamed El Shorbagy, has starred in every single final this month, joining Ali Farag in the finals of the US Open and the St.George’s Channel VAS. The pair still faced each other again in the Qatar Classic’s Semi-Finals with the match lasting 93 minutes and El Shorbagy booking his place in the final with another Egyptian, Tarek Momen. As you can tell there is massive dominance  in the squash world thanks to Egypt but that doesn’t stop upcoming talent and people getting involved. Who knows, maybe I’ll move to Egypt and maybe one day you’ll see me on the World Tour.

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