In January, Mostafa Asal became the youngest man since Jansher Khan in 1988 to become World No.1. Now in the second part of his exclusive interview with Squash Mad, Asal has revealed his pride at being spoken about in the same breath as Jansher and Jahangir Khan.
He may have achieved a huge career goal already, but Mostafa Asal has a new mission. The Egyptian wants to help squash break out from the “silence” which is holding back the sport from puncturing the wider sporting consciousness. “Why is squash not like tennis in terms of interest?” asks the game’s top-ranked player. “Why is it not like football? Why is there no noise?”
Now he has transcended to No.1 it is clear that the new young King of Cairo has been soul-searching on the issues that continue to leave squash in not so splendid isolation when it comes to global sporting awareness – and firmly outside the tent when Olympic inclusion is discussed.
He continued: “We play squash in silence and we are so proud of that silence, why is that? In America when I was travelling from Houston to New York I was stopped by a guard at the airport and he asked me where I was going and what I was going to do there and I replied that I was playing squash and he said: ‘What?’
“He didn’t even know what squash was, never mind that I had just gone No.1, that would never happen in tennis and you have to ask yourself why is that? Can you imagine Novak Djokovic being asked who he was at an airport?
“It is so sad with all this negativity and arguing with each other when we should be putting all our energy into building our sport and leaving aside the jealousy.
“What is important is that the game grows, not that everyone fights each other. I just want people to play the sport as men, as professional squash players, not professional dancers.”
Turning his attention to following in the footsteps of the great Khan dynasty, Asal said: “To be the youngest No.1 since Jahangir and Jansher is something that means so much to me as they are the greatest names in our sport. To put it this way if I quit squash now I’d be happy with what I have achieved.
“They also had the greatest rivalry in the history of squash and when you look at all the titles they won they were just on a different level. No one will ever break their records, so to be after them as the third youngest World No.1 at 21-years-old makes me very proud and something I am still coming to terms with really.
“But I read the interview Jansher did with Squash Mad recently and he made a very interesting point that this is where the hard work really starts and I know I need to stay humble, stay in the moment and most of all keep working very hard to continue improving my game.
“One thing is for sure and that is when you are No.1 you are a target and that means I must keep moving my game forwards.”
Asal also has a great affinity towards Al Ahly Football Club and was mobbed by his fellow fans when he returned to Cairo after becoming squash’s top-dog.
This is a relationship he believes he can develop for the benefit of squash. He said: “My club is the Al Ahly club and it is the most famous club in Africa and when I came back to Cairo I got a huge welcome and the fans were cheering for me at the airport and it was great to see the fans of a football club getting involved in squash. It was fantastic.
“I would say that maybe over 100 million support Al Ahly and we have 80% of Egypt supporting the club and across the Middle East, their support is massive so for these fans to even know the name of Mostafa Asal is awesome for me.
“It is a privilege but it is also something that helps squash transcend into other sports and reach other people it would not have. So, from that point of view, yes, I am changing squash.
“I want people talking about squash, from what I can see if I am not playing a tournament then no one talks about it.
“That could be a positive or a negative depending on your viewpoint but in some tournaments there is just no noise, little interest and nothing goes viral but even when things are negative it is still better that people speak about squash and argue over it than nothing. Zero interest.”
While speculation continues to swirl that Asal is the subject of a suspended two-month ban from the PSA, which the governing body has declined to comment on to Squash Mad, Asal himself remains tight-lipped on the subject.
He straight-batted: “At this point I can’t say what I would like to as there are a lot of conflicts. But at the right time I will speak and people will know for sure what has happened to me and what is going on but the people who are with me know what is going on.
“In terms of all the politics I do not want to speak about it as that would not be right. Unfortunately that is all I can say.”
Right now Asal is taking a break from squash to progress his studies towards a marketing degree as he continues to recover from the virus that forced him to withdraw from the Tournament of Champions last month.
His comeback is slated for either the Black Ball Open on March 2 or the Canary Wharf Classic on March 12. When it came to the next target in his sights the World No.1 was surprisingly low key. “I am just so happy to be World No.1 and I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said. “I have always put No.1 before winning the World Championship or British Open, as I told you the last time we spoke.
“There are many things to get through before we get to either of these tournaments so I will just look to the next match and not beyond.”
By “transcended to No. 1” you may have meant “ascended”
I don’t want squash to be played by cheating clowns who block, dive and zero insight into their own behaviour.