Saturday, May 18, 2024

Rob Owen: ‘Mostafa Asal is destined for greatness but he needs to sort out his conduct on court’

‘Would I coach Asal? Yes, if he cleans up his act – let’s see what happens’
By MIKE DALE (Squash Mad Correspondent)

Paul Coll’s coach Rob Owen was impressed by the way Mostafa Asal performed in winning his first Grasshopper Cup title – but he has encouraged the Egyptian star to clean up his act if he is to earn the respect that normally goes with greatness.

Owen said: “After a hard opening game in the final against Marwan ElShorbagy he had things his own way throughout the second and third.

“He showed immense skill and power to take control of the match and sometimes you forget he is only 21.”

But Owen refused to backtrack on the remarks he made about Asal by labelling the maverick Egyptian as “a cheat” in a wide-ranging interview on the latest episode of the In Squash podcast.

In conversation with podcast host Gerry Gibson, top coach Owen hit out at world No.5 Asal, who has been involved in a succession of contentious incidents since he burst on to the PSA World Tour.

Most recently, Asal hospitalised opponent Lucas Serme at the US Open after turning on a wide crosscourt and hitting a powerful forehand up the middle. Serme ducked in self-preservation and the ball struck the Frenchman on the head, perforating his eardrum and causing concussion.

Asal was disqualified and the incident is set to be dealt with by the PSA’s disciplinary committee, who back in January suspended Asal for two months for unspecified “on-court disciplinary matters”.

Asal’s conduct sparks continual debate among squash fans, but Owen’s opinion is typically unequivocal.

“My view on Asal is that he is a cheat, plain and simple,” Owen told In Squash. “I do not like cheating. I don’t like people who call balls up that are clearly down. Every time a ball is down or close to the tin, he’ll say it’s up. We then see a replay and the ball is halfway down the tin – that is cheating.

“I wouldn’t mind that if sometimes the ball was up and he put his hand up and said, ‘That ball was down’, but he never does. It’s always the wrong way round. Let’s be clear, that is pure and plain cheating.

“He needs to change that. He makes himself look very stupid. That’s not good for himself or for sponsors and it’s not good for the sport.”

A concerned Mostafa Asal stands over Lucas Serme after a shot down the middle of the court struck the Frenchman on the head in the U.S. Open

Matches featuring Asal tend to feature plenty of physical contact and his movement has come under the microscope.

“I haven’t spoken to one player in the top 30 who approves of his movement and thinks it’s good,” claimed Owen. “They all think it’s cheating. They won’t state it publicly because they can’t.

“Everyone who plays him seems to be falling over. There are little nudges going forward and backwards and we’ve talked about his trailing back leg.

“A lot of his movements are unnatural. It might be accidental, but it’s unnatural. It’s not how you move. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this and there are issues there. He needs to sort it out.”

Owen called Asal’s extravagant post-match celebrations “disrespectful and over the top” but stated that “he has a lot of charisma and potentially he could be very, very good for the game.”

Rob Owen is not a fan of Mostafa Asal’s extravagant celebrations

Asal is hugely popular in his native Egypt, where squash is second only to football in national popularity. Still just 21, his connection is especially strong with the younger generation.

“There’s something about the guy. Ramy Ashour had it. You can’t buy charisma and he has charisma. He has a flair that is rare.

“He is an exceptional squash player when he plays squash and I have seen some clean matches when he has concentrated on the squash.

“I’ll also add I think he’s been treated unfairly at times by referees because of his reputation. But he’s brought that on himself.”

Owen is feted within professional squash for insightful forensic analysis of his players and their opponents. One of his proteges, women’s world no.13 Nele Gilis, recently told Squash Mad how he “sees things that neither I or other coaches have seen before”.

Asal is the best young male player in the sport – twice a world junior champion, 2021 US Open winner and victor in June’s El Gouna International and PSA World Tour Finals.

Yet Owen sees many facets of Asal’s game that he thinks he could improve.

“I’d love to help Mostafa,” he said. “I can see areas where he can definitely improve a lot. He is an exceptional player but he is a long way from the finished product.

“He hasn’t got a fantastic touch. His short game can improve a lot. He has immense power and his athleticism is unbelievable. It almost reminds you of the Jahangir [Khan] days.

“[But] he does a lot of big lunges and he can improve that and get more balance on the ball. He does a lot of splits. That’s very tiring, you can’t do the splits economically. It’s hard work.”

He added: “Would I coach Mostafa Asal? If he cleaned his act up. Let’s see if that happens.”

InSquash Podcast.

Gerry Gibson’s latest InSquash Podcast interview with Rob Owen is here

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour 


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