The pint-sized pocket dynamite from Alexandria
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Standing at just over 5 feet tall in a slender frame, looks are definitely deceiving when it comes to Rowan Reda El Araby as she is living proof that size doesn’t always matter. She may be small in size, but her lethality on the squash court troubles even the very best in the world.
The petite native of Alexandria, Egypt needs little introduction in the world of squash. After making waves in the 2016 World Junior Championships where she was the losing finalist to Nouran Gohar, she came back this year to upstage her higher ranked compatriot Hahia El Hammamy to lift the coveted title. Since then, she has been stamping her mark and climbed her way up rapidly on the senior tour to break into the top 50.
In her maiden PSA World Tour event in April 2016 at the Central Gauteng Open in Cape Town, South Africa, the then 15-year old steam rolled past all her opponents without dropping a game to claim her first title in her maiden event. She followed this through a week later in Cape Town to win the UCT Open.
History repeated itself a year later and April seems to be a good month for the teenager, as she won her next pair of titles in the United States. At the Richmond Open in Virginia, she once again stamped her mark to emerge champion without dropping a game. Then a week later, she claimed the biggest title of her career with a win at the PSA10 Charlottesville Open, beating Canadian Danielle Letourneau in a marathon 72-minute final. Her remarkable record at the events saw her break into the top 100 in her first year on the tour in 2016, and in May this year, gate crashed into the top 50.
Rowan was competing in her first Macau Open Squash Open last month and we took the opportunity to speak to her.
Now that winning the world juniors has all sunk in, how do you think it’s changed you as a player?
I think it has made me matured more as a player. I definitely feel more confident on court and playing more professionally.
You are now very active on the senior tour, so what are your targets for this season?
I’ve only been on the tour for a short period of time and I am trying to enjoy playing as much as I can. I would say that I hope and aim to break into the top 30 this season.
How or what is the difference between the junior and senior tour for you?
It’s a totally different zone playing on the senior tour. Nearly everything is different and a few notches up. But for me personally, there are a lot of expectations from me in junior events, but on the seniors, I play with absolutely no pressure or stress at all. I just go in, do my best and enjoy my squash.
You have a big group of Egyptian players. Is there any one in particular you look up to, and why?
It has to be Raneem El Welily. She’s my role model since I was very young. I love watching her in court and try to copy what she does. But now I will eventually have to play against her!
You’ve just played Nouran Gohar. It was a rather close game. What did you learn from that?
She’s such a strong competitor and one of the best in the game. Plus, she has a lot of experience playing on the senior tour. With her fast, hard hitting pace, I learned how to manage and control the pace better perhaps.
I’m sure you’ve had offers to attend university in the United States. Is that something you would consider?
Yes I have, but it’s not something I am considering, at least for now. I have plans to play full time professionally, plus I still have a year to go in school.
And how do you manage school now that you are playing on the senior tour?
I get exemptions to skip school, but I get emailed the homework which I still have to complete and email back to them. So it’s quite tough that I still have school work to do when competing.
Playing squash at this level, obviously there are many sacrifices. What are the things you miss most?
Very plainly, I do not get to enjoy life as a regular young girl. I do not get to go out with my friends as much as I’d like to and of course, a lot of sacrifice in not attending school. But I started training since I was 7 or 8 years old, so over the years, I’ve gotten used to it.
What is your favourite tournament and venue so far?
The best I’ve been has to be Nantes. Though I didn’t do well there, the settings, venue, and everything about it was just nice. I also enjoyed Cape Town, where I won my second title there.
Squash aside, what do you do for fun?
I like photography a lot. I am not a serious photographer, but I just like snapping photos of nature. Like most girls, I also enjoy shopping and travelling a lot.
Are there any other sports you’re interested in?
I used to be a ballerina once, if you consider that a sport. I still love t, but these days, I just don’t have the time for it.
If you weren’t into squash, what do you think you’d want to go for a living?
I would think I would like to be a physiotherapist. I really love biology, the whole study of the human anatomy.
Finally, who’s your favourite men’s player?
That’s easy. Mohamed El Shorbagy. We are both from Alexandria and we train at the same club. From a very young age, he has always had my back, giving me lots of support and encouragement.
Pictures by Rowan Reda, WSF World Juniors and Macau Squash Association