Thursday, December 7, 2023

INTERVIEW: Mohamed El Shorbagy

“I want to be remembered for something that nobody has done so far”

Interview by Juan Carlos Santacruz

with the support of Esteban Casarino (interpretation and translation by Mariana De Reyes)


Egypt’s Mohamed El Shorbagy offers an in-depth look at his life, his goals, role models and ambitions in this exceptional interview which took place during the Colombian Open, which Shorbagy won by clinching the fifth game 17-15 against Laurens Jan Anjema of Holland.


With the impudence of the most intimate conviction, the Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy sustained his goal of making history in squash and this means being remembered for something nobody has done so far.

This goal at his 20s may seem pretentious; if it wasn’t that in spite of his youth he is in the top ten players of the PSA, considered one of the best 10 players of the past year and is one of the two best youngest players of the planet.

Mohamed was born on February 12th, 1991 in the city of Alexandria in Egypt; North of Africa, where squash is considered a national sport. His father is a civil engineer and her mother is dedicated to their home, where she nurtured two champions, Mohamed and Mawan. Mawan is 17 and is also a squash player that along Mohamed has started to write an inedited history of squash in the world. Both brothers have become junior world champions.

Mohamed is the second player in the world, alongside his compatriot Ramy Ashour, PSA No. 2, to conquer two world junior championships in the Under 19 category. The inspirer of these triumphs was Ramy. El Shorbagy sustains that in 2006, Ramy conquered the title of Junior Champion in New Zealand for the second time, and he had the fortune of being there and watched him fulfill his dreams. “I want to win that trophy as well” he said.

Two years later, this dream came true in Switzerland. “To conquer something, you have to see them every day as possible” he thought, and in 2008, when he was 16 he defeated the Pakistani Amir Atlas Khan. It was an immense challenge. By that time, El Shorbagy was PSA No. 65 and Khan was PSA No. 21. Despite the favoritism of the Pakistani, he started losing the first game of the final and won 3-1. A year later, in India he defended his title against the Malaysian player Ivan Yuen but this time with a solid 3-0. These historic triumphs are his biggest joy as a player.

At age 15 he made his debut as a professional in the PSA in 2007 and climbed rapidly winning up to 3 professional titles; the most important the Indian Challenger, being the youngest player to achieve the title in a 5 stars tournament. He stood out with his title in the Motor City Open in Detroit, when he defeated his idol David Palmer in the semi-final and obtained the 4th place in the World Open when he was only 17.

There was always someone to imitate in Egypt.

Egypt is considered a mandatory standard in world squash. It has 4 top ten players in the world; their players have won the last 6 versions of the World Junior Championships. In this orbital tournament for juniors, that begun in 1990 and has held 18 versions, Egypt has won 50% of the titles with 9 champions and 4 of them, by the hands of Ashour and El Shorbagy.

When asked why Egypt is a world squash power, he sustained with great clarity that it was because there is always someone to imitate. This is of course since Ahmed Barada, first junior champion and PSA No. 1 alongside Ahmed Faizy and Karim Darwish. Nowadays the names are numerous, starting from Ashour, the two El Shorbagys, the other Ashour, Hisham, Wael El Indi and Omar Mossad beside others.  Finally the best of all times the historic icon, Amr Shabana.

Shabana is the best player in Egyptian squash history. Today, he is 32 years old and is PSA No. 5. He managed to endure 33 months in the PSA No. 1 and has been the only player in history, with Jahangir Khan and Geoff Hunt to conquer four World Open titles.

El Shorbagy remarks that Shabana has been his greatest idol, the player to imitate, the footprints he hopes to follow as well as the ex PSA No. 1, the Canadian Jonathan Power.

The path to achieve what others have achieved, to follow their tracks and continue the path is, according to El Shorbagy, the secret that has made Egypt the first power in world squash today.

Inspiration came from home

Mohamed comments that his parents and younger brother Marwan have been vital in his career. His parents have supported him, surrounding him with affection and always respecting his decisions, moments and space.

He remembers, full of emotion, that in the Junior Championships in Switzerland in 2008 he had to experience a tough moment, facing great pressure being only 16 searching for his first title. He confesses that he decided to call his parents for their support, and they flew in from Dubai, arrived after nine hours of flight to encourage him to win. He gets emotional with the memory of one of the most significant and unconditional expressions of support from his parents.

With his brother Marwan he has a fraternal relationship, very emotive and highly motivational. He sustains that one of the biggest joy squash has given him, was watching his brother become World Junior Champion a month ago in Herentals, Belgium. His brother is only 17 and both have written history, becoming the first pair of brothers to conquer the title of Junior World Champions.

However, the hunger of the spirit of a champion is so enormous that he affirms with no doubt that next year Marwan can become Junior World Champion for a second time. “He would bring home four world titles”. A feat difficult to repeat.

They train and talk, or better, they reflect about squash. He says that both have many common points as players, but they think very differently in their game.

When we asked him about the possibility of them meeting on court, he says he will have to win, because that is his mentality but he surely affirmed that the only player he aspires to see higher than himself is his brother Marwan. If they ever meet on court, between laughs, he says it would be like a match between Venus and Serena Williams.

The knowledge to strengthen mentally

Mohamed started playing squash at age 8. His uncle was an amateur player and took him to the place where he played with friends. He saw the game, got excited and started to play. He learned by the hand of the squash bible, Gamal Awad, who was Egypt’s national champion in 1976 and was known for training rising stars. Awad is also known for playing the longest game in the history of squash in a match against the Pakistani Jahangir Khan. He was losing 1-8, when the score was up to 9, he requested for one additional point and won 10-9.

That mentality of Awad to overcome difficulties was clearly inherited to Mohamed. He was his coach since the age of 8 until he was 12. With only 49, in 2004 Gamal Awad passed away and the sports career of Mohamed entered a terrible emotional batch. It was a strong loss for him, and before his decease he talked to him for 30 minutes and gave him some final advices.

But it’s precisely in the critical moments where opportunities are found. From the hand of Awad he passed to the English Jonah Barrington, who today is 70 years old. A squash scholar, who as a player won 6 British Opens between 1967 and 1973, in that time, the British Open was considered the World Open. His writings, books, methodology, didactical approach and teaching pedagogy are the source of wisdom in world squash, maybe the school with the highest academy.

In England, the El Shorbagys found the source of inspiration to continue their training plans, because both players left home. Mohamed channeled his sadness of losing his Egyptian coach with Jonah as well as the temporary disagreements of the squash he was taught 5 years ago. Therefore, he packed his bags and left to Millfield to become part of the Barrington Squash Academy, joining Jonah who became a high level coach for juniors after being one of the best players in history.

With the historic knowhow of forming the best junior players for the past three decades, Mohamed received his two World titles with the help of Jonah.

El Shorbagy’s greatest virtue on court is his mental strength. That is what he does differently. “I enter the court and I forget who he is, where he comes from, I always want to win. I don’t care about making a nice match, I care about winning,” he affirms categorically.  This mental strength was first pushed by Awad in Egypt and was polished by coach Barrington, who generated the true tactic so junior players could focus their minds during key moments, change their attitude when necessary and always have a winning attitude. “Firmly believing that you can win, is already starting to win,” he says with the freshness that flourishes in his interior and finishes with a smile that lights his face, showing his youth.

Playing with seniors

In the Teams World Championships in Paderborn, Germany in the month of August of the present year he made his debut on the Egyptian team. It was his first call and he had the enormous responsibility of passing his team to the final. Egypt had already been champion last year and in spite of the absence of their star Amr Shabana, reaching the final was a challenge. Given that in sports nothing is written, France tied the series to one all.

Ramy Ashour defeated Gregory Gaultier by 3-0 but Karim Darwish lost to Thierry Lincou, 3-2. Therefore it was on El Shorbagy’s hand to define the match and pass to the final. The match was against Mathieu Castagnet. He was losing 2-1 and in the fourth game he was 7-4. “I felt I had 10 kilograms on my shoulders,” he said and sustained that with such responsibility he felt heavy while thinking and moving.  Yet he focused and accepted he had the responsibility of winning and so he did, he played his best shots, he risked impressively and tied the match to two all. In the final game, he gave his team-mates the dreamed pass to the final against England.

Another world title at his 20s: World Open Teams Champion.

We’re ending the conversation that becomes pleasant and friendly, but it is time to ask why he agreed to come to Colombia and experience the challenge. “When I arrived, I did not understand why players complained, the ball bounces just a little more” he says. But on the second day he did not feel air entering his lungs, then called his brother and told him it was terrible and said that he would probably come home earlier. However the next day in his first game in the Main Draw he felt the air re-enter his lungs and won categorically. “Now I know it’s hard, but it is an outstanding challenge for an athlete, because you have to learn to win in all environments, in all courts and against all players if you want to be the best” he says with an amazing ease for a young man.

Then he looks at us with his traditional smile waiting for the end of the interview and once again he concentrates in the same way he does in his routine when he receives the ball from his opponent, stretches the racket in front of his body looks between his wrist and racket grip, and looks back at his opponent to follow the path of the ball. Pure concentration, pure conviction, pure champion fiber.

We said goodbye knowing that we had had a good time with the protagonist of a story in process that will continue to generate many pages in order to reach his desire of not accepting being the best, but rather to conquer something that nobody has managed before in squash history. Surely we will have front row seats to enjoy his triumphs and think that in order to be a winner, you have to feel a winner; El Shorbagy feels a winner.

Interview originally published here:

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