Marwan aims to take the number one spot from big brother Mohamed
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Marwan Elshorbagy approaches the forthcoming Canary Wharf Classic in a vein of outstanding form. A losing semi-finalist to his brother in the Colombia Open, the world number 10 reveals that his long-term aim is to replace his brother at the top of the world rankings.
11 POINTS WITH MARWAN ELSHORBAGY:
Interview by ALAN THATCHER
1: What a year it’s been for you, with some excellent performances and a steady rise up the rankings to occupy a place in the world top 10.
You were runner-up in two tournaments, the China Open and the Kolkata Open, reached the semi-finals of the Bluenose Classic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and reached the quarter-finals of the Macau Open and Tournament of Champions in New York. Which of those performances stand out, and why?
A: The China Open, of course, was a special one for me as I beat three top 15 players in the space of three days. It is also the main reason why I got into the top 10, which has always been a dream for me. I remember it very well as I have played the best squash of my life in this tournament.
And of course playing squash on The Bund in Shanghai made it extra special for me. The tournament in Shanghai is very well organized. I remember warming up before each match in my hotel room on the 11th floor and the glass court was on the same floor as my room. Life was just so easy!
Also, reaching the quarters at the Tournament of Champions and almost beating Nick Matthew is also a good sign for me for this year.
A: Fares is a very good player. He is coming up very fast. He made the top 20 a few months ago and I’m sure he’s hungry for more success.
I think for me this could be the most exciting first round match of the tournament and I’m sure Fares and I will give it everything to entertain the crowd.
3: With Canary Wharf completely sold out, you will be playing in front of a full-house crowd on the opening day at the East Wintergarden. As a professional, how does that make you feel?
A: Last time I played in Canary Wharf was in 2012 so to get the opportunity of playing in one of the best venues in the world again is amazing. Every time I step on court in a wonderful venue like the East Wintergarden I feel blessed to have this opportunity.
I always tell myself to make the most of it because you are never sure whether you will be able to come back again for the year after or not.
I’m very excited to be back at Canary Wharf and to play in front of such an amazing crowd makes it more special for all the players.
4: There are four Egyptians in the top half of the draw, with Mazen Hesham meeting wild card Ben Coleman and top seed Omar Mosaad playing Chris Simpson in the first round. I know this could be a long answer, but what do you think are the reasons for Egyptian squash being in such a strong position right now?
A: Squash in Egypt is big. When you go to a local tournament in Egypt you will find 200 kids competing only in the Under-11s category, so imagine 200 kids with their 200 parents and coaches in every category.
Trust me, as a junior in Egypt you go through a lot at such a young age. The atmosphere in the local tournaments is very competitive and it makes the kids work harder every time to try and make it.
And, of course, the parents in Egypt push their kids all the time to train while trying to make them get a degree at the same time.
This is the norm for squash in Egypt but for me things were different as I have been living in England for the past nine years, and when I moved here I wasn’t a top junior player in Egypt.
I feel squash in England is one of the main reasons why I made it to the top 10 and won two world juniors titles. I have trained at Millfield School in Somerset under Jonah Barrington and Ian Thomas for four or five years and then moved to Bristol, where I have been working with Hadrian Stiff for a long time, so I have always had English coaches and I feel without them I wouldn’t have been in this position.
5: Please tell us about life in Bristol: the studies, the training and the social life?
A: To be honest I feel very lucky to live in a city like Bristol. I feel we are all a family to each other whether it’s with the squash community or my friends from university.
I always feel at home whenever I’m in Bristol and I see myself spending the rest of my life here.
I’m doing another Masters degree right now at the University of the West of England, who have been giving me and my brother an amazing support for the past four or five years.
As for the training, we have a great group of players living in the city now. The atmosphere at the training here is amazing. Life here is so relaxing compared to when I go to Egypt, where everything is so tense and everything is about squash, which always ends up making me feel under pressure.
I think living in England in general has changed the way I think about life and made me realise it’s not all about squash all the time, I feel more relaxed here living in the best city in the UK.
6: I understand you are sharing accommodation with some fellow squash players. How do you organise the rotas for cooking, cleaning and washing all that squash kit?
A: Me and my brother both live on campus in the student village. We don’t own a property yet. We live with a group of squash players with great potential, especially Josh Masters and James Peach. I think they have a great future for squash in England. We also live with another two squash players, Antonio de la Torre, who is number two in Guatemala, and Hakon Standal, who is number five in Norway.
I let my brother cook for me most of the time, as he has just got into the cooking lately and somehow he’s into it, which is good for me as I don’t have to buy food every day.
James is pretty good, I have to say, with cleaning the kitchen and the living room. Most of the time, I beat Antonio on the PlayStation in FIFA so he ends up washing my squash kit because we bet for it before we play. That reminds me, he still owes me two washes, which I will let him do before I go to London for Canary Wharf. And as for Josh, I just enjoy killing him on the squash court.
I have known these guys for a long time and it’s so much fun living with them, apart from all of us getting in trouble every week and having security around our flat because of the complaints about the noise!
A: Harrow is a great company. They take very good care of their players and they treat players like family, especially when you are loyal to them.
I use the new Harrow Silk racket, which is a different shape to what most players use. I like it very much because it’s light and makes you able to play at a fast pace. The game is getting a lot faster now and the racket gives me power as well, which is always needed.
It’s only my second year with Harrow but I’m looking forward to spending as much time as possible with them.
8: You must be hugely proud of your brother Mohamed occupying the world number one spot. What would you identify as the main qualities that have taken him to the top of the game?
A: I have said in question four that as a junior in Egypt you go through a lot. My brother went through a lot as a junior and it only made him stronger and stronger.
I respect him a lot as I know exactly what he’s gone through in Egypt.
I respect the fact that he’s gone through all that and now he’s dominating the sport. I’m so proud of him achieving so much at such a young age and he’s still got a long time left in the sport, and it’s exciting to think how much more he can still achieve.
I have never seen someone as hungry as him before. He always keeps working on his game and changing few bits, which makes a lot of difference.
As Jonah always tells me, it’s all about attention to very small details. We are so proud of him in our family and we all hope that he can keep the number one spot for as long as he can … until I take it from him!
9: The World Team Championships were cancelled in Cairo at the end of 2015, but I understand there are plans to stage the men’s World Championship in the city later this year, plus plans to resurrect the spectacular tournament at the Pyramids. How do you feel about the safety aspects of staging major events in Cairo?
A: I know that Cairo is safe and staging any tournament in Egypt right now will be very safe. I think what happened with the World Team Championships is that the timing of the event wasn’t good for most of us as players, and the fact that the WSF had changed the location of the event a month before the event starts wasn’t good for federations too, especially having it in the Middle East where things are not stable yet.
I spoke to a few players about what they think about the safety and security in Egypt and I totally understand their decision of pulling out from the event.
And, of course, with what happened in Paris too I think it was the right decision to just postpone the event. But right now things are more calm and having the World Championship in Cairo later this year at the Wadi Degla club, under the guidance of Karim Darwish, could be one of the best organised tournaments this year.
10: What are your views on squash’s absence from the Olympic Games?
A: Squash is a tough sport, probably one of the toughest sports right now. You need to be physically and mentally very strong to compete at such a high level.
We definitely deserve a place in the Olympics but I think we need to keep focusing on how to keep improving our sport. Squash has improved a lot in the last few years, especially with SquashTV and even with prize money, I think the sport is going on the right direction.
Of course as a player I still think we deserve a lot more than that but we have to give a lot of credit to the PSA as they keep working hard to improve the TV and get deals done with a lot of channels.
Prize money for men and women has improved, especially for the women, refereeing is getting a lot better, and more new tournaments in different countries and continents around the world are on the calendar now, which makes our sport more global.
I think with the Olympics we all know it’s about politics, so as a sport we need to get to the point that we are too good for the other sports and then IOC will have no option other than choosing squash.
11: What are your targets for the remainder of 2016?
A: It’s been a good start for me in 2016. I feel my game has improved and I keep working on my game on a daily basis.
I am looking forward to keep enjoying being on tour and playing all over the world. I feel blessed with this life and I will make sure I will make the most of it in 2016.
Marwan, thank you so much for a great interview and we wish you good luck at Canary Wharf.
Full details of the Canary Wharf Classic can be found here