EXCLUSIVE BY MIKE DALE (Squash Mad Correspondent)
Former world no.1 Karim Abdel Gawad retains hope that he can resurrect his career despite a succession of cruel setbacks with a rare heel injury.
The 31-year-old Egyptian has not played since retiring from this year’s World Championships in May – but his current injury nightmare dates back to the 2020 Manchester Open final against Mohamed ElShorbagy when he first experienced severe pain in his heel.
The injury was later diagnosed as damage to the fat pad which cushions the heel when in contact with the ground – a condition which Gawad says affects “one in a million athletes”.
Since that fateful final in Manchester over two years ago, the 2016 world champion has undergone physio, MRI scans, radical changes to his training, competed wearing a restrictive silicone sock and worked with a mental coach to try to overcome the persistent discomfort during matches.
At several stages he could not walk properly. But several attempted comebacks have resulted in largely modest results, by his previous standards.
He suffered another recurrence of severe pain in April – ironically, back at the Manchester Open against the same opponent, Mohamed ElShorbagy.
That was followed by an early exit from May’s Tournament of Champions and a retirement from the World Championships (once again, during a match with ElShorbagy).
Gawad hasn’t set foot on a court since. Instead, he has made fortnightly trips to Munich to see foot specialist Professor Markus Walther, who has administered Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections containing Gawad’s own blood to aid tissue healing.
After four injections over a period of two months, Gawad faced a crucial meeting with Professor Walther two weeks ago to determine whether his rehab could begin, or whether his career was essentially over. Gawad admitted it was his “last chance”. Happily for the Alexandria-born player, it was good news.
Gawad revealed to Squash Mad: “He suggested I must have three to four physio sessions per week for two and a half months and start wearing a normal shoe with a soft heel from November to try to challenge the tissues. I will visit him for another MRI on a December 6.”
It will be several months yet until the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ potentially steps back on a squash court.
But the prognosis at least offers some hope that he may be able to resume his career on the PSA Tour.
Pictures courtesy of Karim Abdel Gawad and PSA World Tour