Wednesday, July 24, 2024

No one likes missing the season start in any sport, how will Asal cope?

OPINION: The ultimate fear is that the Egyptian squash star will never realise his full astronomical potential and that the age of Asal will remain a mirage.

While Mostafa Asal has twice returned to the fray after bans, fuelled by a sense of injustice or persecution, to reclaim his rightful place at the apex of the PSA rankings, one begins to wonder when this most unique case of self-harming will leave permanent scars following an unprecedented third ban.

The new squash season may be under way, courtesy of the Windsor Cup in Canada, but all eyes will soom be turned in the direction of France where the great and the good of the game will contest the first PSA Platinum event at the Esplanade Palais De Tokyo.

There will be one noticeable absentee – Asal will remain in not so splendid isolation, kicking his heels back in Egypt as the full impact of his latest 12-week ban takes effect.

By any stretch, at just 22 years-old, ‘The Raging Bull’ has accumulated quite a rap sheet for one so young, with three separate bans sidelining him for a total of 26 weeks during the last 18-months.

On a combination of Squash Mad and PSA editorial assignments recently I have had the pleasure to speak with three former World No.1s, one of whom, in Jonah Barrington, has levels of wisdom which never cease to amaze me.

All of them share a common viewpoint that this can’t keep happening — and is doing neither Mostafa or squash any good.

While the rest of the usual suspects get set to battle it out in the French capital Asal will be no doubt working with his new coach Mohamed Elkeiy, but working on what?

Asal’s season will not start until October during which time his rivals will have been treading the boards ‘en Paris’, Qatar and across the pond in the ‘Land of the Free’.

That is an awful lot of competitive match time to have missed out on.

Every summer when football resumes at different stages, depending on which league your team plays in and how many European qualifying rounds they must negotiate, the common moan is that a continental catastrophe is down to the fact the opposition had X amount of games in their legs while your favourites’ season has just started.

As a Heart of Midlothian fan I had that excuse at the ready ahead of the Jambos Europa Conference League third qualifying round second leg with Rosenborg.

It is a point David Palmer made to me in typically forthright fashion when we spoke last week and given it will mean that Asal has missed a total of 18-weeks of the PSA World Tour this year by the time he climbs back on the bus in the Autumn, optimum match form will surely this time take time to reach. Even for one so prodigiously talented.

Yet I wonder just what the mental impact of this latest ban will be?

No one likes missing the start of their season – whatever the sport. 

Mostafa Asal moves on to the ball against Diego Elias

It is something you have worked for all summer. I still have nightmares recalling the summer of ’96 when my coach, the ubiquitous John Kirby, issued me with a copy of Barrington’s Murder In The Squash Court and ordered me to take it on holiday to Greece so I could acquaint myself with the horrors that would await my return.

For Asal that sense of expectation, goal, focus was removed at one fell swoop and replaced with a three-month hollowed out hiatus.

So while he may indeed be training with renewed fury I can’t help but feel some of the fire will have been doused.

Over the last two years I have spoken with Asal on about a half dozen occasions and every time found him engaging and good company.

In fact if anything I felt he was too open for his own good and most of our conversations had to be consigned to the cutting room floor.

However after being confronted with the evidence of the PSA’s ‘extra’ camera angle, which ultimately did for the young Egyptian during his matches with Joel Makin and Mazen Hesham at the World Championships, I had no option to call it as I saw it during a gig on the ‘In Squash’ podcast hosted by the excellent Gerry Gibson – since then silence has reigned. 

In response to these damming freeze frame images, Asal’s new coach Mohamed Elkeiy conducted an interesting interview with colleague Mike Dale, in which he revealed his new charge would be hooking up with James Willstrop for match play workshops which would address the ‘issues’ concerned.

Last week ‘The Marksman’ confirmed this claim has, so far, fallen wide of the mark and there has been no rap on the doors of his Pontefract squash paradise. 

Which begs the question: just how serious are Team Asal about correcting these faults?

But while that is one side of the coin the other, which Jonah has raised on more than one occasion in his hugely insightful monthly PSA columns, is that his rivals are not slow or innocent of highlighting or hamming up when Asal infringes.

In conclusion, this sideshow is becoming not only a bore but a blight on the game. But I for one fear that when Mostafa Asal returns to the court we may well find that plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose.

If that is indeed the case then the ultimate fear is that the Egyptian will never realise his full astronomical potential and that the age of Asal will remain a mirage – tantalisingly close yet always out of reach and devoid of real substance.

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