My brother Wael has always been my role model. So when he started playing squash at about eight years old, I followed him. I was about five and a half. I fell in love with the sport straight away. One time, my parents had to drag me crying off the court because I didn’t want to stop playing.
When I was 10, I started reaching finals and winning local tournaments. Squash is very competitive in Egypt. So winning tournaments is a big deal. In 2000, I saw Karim Darwish, a fellow Egyptian, win the World junior Squash Championships. I remember saying I wanted to emulate him. That was my goal. I never even thought about turning pro at that point.
Later, I played squash for Harvard. After graduation, I could have gone into the private sector. I could have earned more money and had a more secure job. But Harvard’s head coach Mike Way, Nour (wife, Nour El Tayeb) and my brother, Wael, all told me I should turn pro. They said “you should go for it, it’s your passion, you’re good and you could turn your lifelong hobby into a career. So in 2009, I did it.
In less than a year, I flew up the rankings from the very bottom, to world number 22. I reached the quarter final of the World Open that year. But it was about more than doing well, I was doing the thing I loved the most, with the person I loved the most, (my wife) while touring the world. It couldn’t have been any better.
I love the mix of the physical and the mental side of the game. Squash has stamina, speed, skill, talent, spirit, power, intensity, agility, and above all, mental toughness. On the mental side, I love the smartness of squash. You have to be really sharp to outsmart your opponent. We play in an enclosed space, you can’t outpace or overpower an opponent, you have to be really smart in moving the ball around. I love that aspect.
The mental and the physical definitely influence each other. What comes first, I don’t know. But if I’m physically fit, I know I’ll feel more confident if a match goes longer. And if I’m mentally strong, I can tell myself ‘it’s okay, you’re fit, you can do this’.
I fell in love with the sport straight away. One time, my parents had to drag me crying off the court because I didn’t want to stop playing.
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