Dealing with the pressure of being world number one, and how living in Bristol helps me unwind
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
World number one Mohamed Elshorbagy continues his fascinating interview, talking about his base in Bristol, the pressure of being the man at the top of the rankings, his respect for his fellow professionals, and his enormous pride in the achievements of his Egyptian nation in squash.
6: Please tell us a little more about life in Bristol. What do you enjoy most about living there?
A: I absolutely love Bristol, it’s a city that has everything a squash player needs from facilities and at the same time a great social life…I do train here with my brother Marwan, who is my main training partner, but I also have players like Peter Creed, Josh Masters and Tom Ford to train with.
We have the top Japanese player Misaki Kobayashi here for a month training with us too and we all went to the balloon festival last weekend as it was a relaxing time to spend.
7: Let’s talk about being the world number one. Is life easier, or harder, being the number one? I’m guessing at times there must be feelings of isolation, knowing that everyone else in the world is out to beat you. Other players admit to having struggled with the mental pressures of being number one. How do you cope with those pressures?
A: Definitely life is just way harder, harder than anyone can imagine, and only players with their teams who succeeded and achieved that world number status would understand how it feels. Literally there is pressure in every shot you hit while your opponent doesn’t have quite the same pressure.
That pressure got to me a lot especially the first few months I got to world number 1 but I feel I am dealing with it better now…but it’s still a challenge for me and I just love challenges and it’s a challenge for me to see how long I can protect it for and I will keep doing everything I can in my power to try and protect that position.
I have also been lucky to have a great team behind me. They are always willing to take all the hits for me in order that I perform mentally fresh on court.
8: Being at the top of such a talented group of players, including Gregory Gaultier, Ramy Ashour, Nick Matthew, Amr Shabana and James Willstrop must make you feel enormously proud. What do you absorb from those other players? And what do you feel about players like Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who one can possibly describe as coming in from a different direction?
A: In each generation we always had one or two great players who were way better than the others, but what’s good about this generation is that they are all great players. I have been lucky and privileged that I am able to compete with them, as I have learnt so much from them.
I have been fortunate to have had so many tough battles with all of them, and still do. In few years, when this generation is gone, they will be truly missed as they have given something to the squash world that we might not ever see again.
I think it’s important for the game to have someone like Miguel playing at the top level as he is quick and fun, and an exciting player to watch, and above all that he is truly a gentleman off court too as I know him quite well, and his family too. And our two mothers are actually very good friends as well.
9: I hear that Raneem El Welily is due to take over as women’s number one in the September rankings. With two Egyptians at world number one, that will surely be a proud moment for the nation.
A: I did hear Raneem is taking over from Nicol in the rankings next month. Of course it’s great for Egypt squash to have for the first time in history both male and female to be world number one at the same time. Nicol and Raneem have been giving women’s squash something special during the last season and I am excited to see more of their compelling matches together next season.
Our junior girls have been doing great for so many years now. This could be the strongest ever girls generation Egypt has ever had while for the boys we lost the last two world juniors when we used to win everything in juniors before, so there is for sure room for improvements and to see what possibly went wrong in the last few years.
10: Egypt lost the World Junior Championships because of events in neighbouring Libya. However, in the past few months Egypt has successfully hosted the Women’s World Championships, and, with major events in Cairo, Alexandria, El Gouna and Sharm El Sheikh, the nation has shown its ability to stage significant events with both panache and safety. You and Gregory Gaultier even played an exhibition match before the recent Alexandria women’s final. What are your thoughts on Egypt’s position in the world of squash and how the country is viewed by the rest of the world, bearing in mind the recent political unrest?
A: To be honest I couldn’t understand why the World Junior Championships were taken away from Egypt, at a time when things are more safe now. We played El Gouna and there was also Sharm El Sheikh and the Alexandria tournament showed that we can host events safely in Egypt now, and I don’t think any of the players who came to Egypt complained about safety.
11: After a hard season, and a tough time answering so many questions, you fully deserve a relaxing summer holiday. How are you spending the summer, knowing that the rest of the guys in the world top 10 will be working on strategies designed to beat you?
A: I went back to Alexandria after the British Open and spent Ramadan there as it’s always a good atmosphere in Egypt during Ramadan, and had a very relaxing month after the British. Then it was back to training hard.
I got back to Bristol at the end of July to get ready for my new season, which will start in Shanghai at the beginning of September, so I will be looking forward to seeing all the players again and can’t wait for more exciting battles with the other top guys, as that’s what we live for.
Mohamed, many thanks for such an enjoyable and insightful interview. Good luck in the coming season.
Pictures courtesy of PSA, ToC, British Open, US Open, Steve Line, Irena Vanisova, Marian Kraus and Steve Cubbins