Mohamed Elshorbagy interview: Part One
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Mohamed Elshorbagy approaches the new season on top of the world rankings, with a powerful, dynamic brand of squash pushing him ahead of the chasing pack. He combines this aggressive style with phenomenal artistry and invention, making him one of the most complete squash players in the history of the game.
The great champions are often very humble people, and are quick to thank those around them who help them through the quiet moments away from the action. That’s exactly the case with Mohamed Elshorbagy, who, like Andy Murray in tennis, is often happiest when his mum is in his corner.
Not only does he have that kind of family support, with his brother Marwan (world No.13) as a training partner in Bristol, but he also enjoys a support system in the west of England that includes top coach Hadrian Stiff, the University of the West of England, and one of the greatest brains in squash history, Jonah Barrington.
Here he tells Alan Thatcher how the past 12 months have delivered enormous success but also brought new challenges to deal with.
11 POINTS WITH MOHAMED ELSHORBAGY
1: Mohamed, congratulations on another momentous season. Finishing the season as world number one and British Open champion must feel good. As you sit down and enjoy some time off in the summer, how would you sum up the past 12 months?
A: The past 12 months have been the toughest in my life for sure…I went through a very tough season but it’s a season that I would never forget with its ups and downs.
Since getting to world number one my life not just on court got to be more difficult than before but even my life off court…I had a lot of pressure to handle and I am just proud with how I dealt with everything at the end and was able to protect my ranking and still win most of the World Series events last season or at least be in the final of all the big tournaments and end my season with the British Open win, which was one of my main goals.
2: Behind the scenes, and away from the glare of the glass court, what were the key personal moments that stand out from the past year?
A: I remember going to the US Open last October and knowing that I have a shot at becoming world number 1 for the first time of my life was very tough. You train all your life to become the best player in the world and knowing that I had the chance to get that goal at 23 years old was making my mind go crazy.
So, two weeks before the tournament, I booked my mother a flight ticket to Philly and then I called her and told her I don’t care what you have planned in two weeks time but you are going to cancel everything because we are both going to Philly to win this tournament and get the World number one ranking and you have to be there to see me lifting this trophy…in two weeks’ times I found myself lifting the trophy and being announced as the new world number one….CRAZY!!
3: What have you learnt in that time, about yourself and the game of squash?
A: Becoming world number 1 has taught me a lot about myself as a person…I never understood why people say becoming the best is tough but staying the best is tougher until I actually got the number 1 ranking.
I had to be very tough mentally to go through that last season and I have understood why the mental side of the game is the most important factor as no matter how talented a squash player can be it’s just never good enough if you want to be the world best player.
You have to be very tough mentally to go through all those tournaments and play all the finals and back up tournament after tournament.
I did that well last season but I want to do it for more and more seasons as I am just 24 and I feel that I can definitely push and get even better. I feel that the tricky part for me is the process of how long I can keep it up mentally. I know it will be a big challenge. I will do the best I can to keep it up.
4: You and your brother Marwan are part of an impressive training set-up with Hadrian Stiff in Bristol. What are the main things you are working on? How would you spend an average week or two between tournaments (if there is such a thing)?
A: Me and my brother absolutely love training here in Bristol and we definitely made it our squash home. We get so much support from the University of the West of England here and we have a good team of physios behind us.
Hadrian’s sessions have been a key for me for sure as we worked so much on my movements, especially on court and also in my short game.
It’s always important for me to be back to Bristol between tournaments and get those sessions with Hadrian before I go away again for another one as those sessions definitely sharpen me for the competitions.
5: With Jonah Barrington just a few miles away, you have one of the greatest minds in squash available to you for advice. How often do you talk to Jonah? And what are they key messages he passes on to you?
A: We talk a lot, and during tournaments we speak every day. He knows me more than anyone else and he knows how my mind works…and we always speak before matches about the plan.
He knows how to build up my confidence when I am down, as I remember at the British final when I lost the third game to Gregory Gaultier and found myself 2-1 down. Once I went off court I told my mum to get me Jonah on the phone right now.
I only needed to hear his voice and get the push from him and the belief that I could get back in the match again…I will always be the luckiest to have him on my side.
16 MONTHS THAT PUT MOHAMED ELSHORBAGY ON TOP
Jan 2014: Tournament of Champions (Runner-Up)
January 2014: Motor City Open (Winner)
March 2014: Windy City Open (Runner-Up)
March 2014: World Series Finals (Runner-Up)
April 2014: El Gouna (Runner-Up)
May 2014: British Open (Runner-Up)
August 2014: Malaysian Open (Winner)
August 2014: Hong Kong Open (Winner)
September 2014: Mexican Open (Winner)
October 2014: US Open (Winner)
November 2014: World Championship (Runner-Up)
Jan 2015: Tournament of Champions (Winner)
March 2015: Windy City Open (Runner-Up)
April 2015: El Gouna (Runner-Up)
May 2015: British Open (Winner)
Part Two: Tomorrow
The pressure of being world number one, and my pride at being part of a huge Egyptian success story
Pictures courtesy of PSA, US Open, ToC, Windy City Open and British Open