Making of a champion: Meet Egypt's leading ladies in squash
- 02 March 2017
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It seems that ever since squash was invented, Egyptians have always been taking home the prize. Even the sport’s first dominant champion, F.D. Amr Bey was an Egyptian diplomat who started playing while stationed in England, and he went on to win six consecutive British Open championships, then the sport’s biggest international competition, in the 1930s.
Today, decades later, 60 per cent of the top 10 world players in the world are Egyptian. Here, we take a look the women currently making waves in the sport and dominating three spots in the current top five of the PSA Women’s Rankings.
FROM THE TOP
Nour El Sherbini, the current world number one, started playing squash at the age of six. At 13, after winning the 2009 World Open Under-19, Nour realised that she had great potential.
“I was so scared to play against players who were years ahead of me, but I did it anyway, and I won,” she told My Salaam.
It wasn’t a walk in the park for the now 21-year-old, though. Shortly after, the squash star faced the biggest challenge in her career.
“In early 2011, just before the [Egyptian] revolution, I developed a knee injury,” Nour recalled. “I had to travel abroad to operate on my knee, and upon my return, a revolution had started.”
But dealing with a nonfunctional knee and the chaos in her country motivated Nour to keep pushing harder. Between intense fitness workouts and “chocolate binges” for rewards, Nour soon became the youngest woman to win the Women’s World Open Squash Championship title in 2015.
“It felt surreal to achieve so much, and it really makes me proud to this very day, but it also added to the pressure and responsibility I felt towards the game,” she said.
Nour’s advice to anyone who wants to excel in any sport? Love what you do. “Stay positive and have faith in yourself even when the world tells you [that] you can’t do it. The only way to success is by loving what you do and never losing sight of your goals”.
NEXT RUNNER UP
Nouran Gohar is the youngest player in the history of women’s squash to reach the top three, but she started playing squash when she was eight. “Never believe anyone who tells you [that] you can’t do it,” the now 19-year-old told us. “I started squash three years too late, and here I am today.”
Nouran suffered an eye injury that left her almost blind two weeks before the biggest game of her life, and she lost to her idol and former world number one Nicol David, but in spite of all this she has never taken her eyes off the prize.
“It’s hard to stay focused and motivated all the time, but remembering what it feels like to win makes it all worthwhile,” she continued. “The very first time I played against Nicol, I was too jittery and nervous; I couldn’t even focus on my game, so I lost. [However,] I played against her in the China Open 2014 three months later, winning against my childhood idol, and it felt great.”
GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES
Current world number three and former world number one Raneem El Welily was the first Egyptian woman to reach the top of the world rankings in any sport. Not only that, but Raneem had to fight for the title against 10-year consecutive former world number one Nicol David.
Raneem started playing squash at the age of six.
“I’d watch my brother play for hours and follow him everywhere, and being the ‘annoying little sister’ that I was back then, I too wanted to take up squash,” Raneem said. She won her first title when she was just seven years old.
“I remember looking up to Nicol David growing up. I had posters of her on my wall, and ever since I watched her play and win championships, I realised there was more to squash than local tournaments. I too wanted to become an international player.”
Now 28, Raneem tries to stay motivated even on days when she feels like quitting. “I get my motivation from the people around me, especially my coaches, but on some days, when you’ve been working really hard and lose a match anyway, you just feel like it’s just not worth it. That’s when you should push harder; that’s when you’re closest to winning.”