‘He was a genius at work and a pleasure to play with’ says Nick Matthew
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Ramy Ashour’s retirement provoked a massive response from the global squash community, mixing sadness at his departure from the professional tour with enormous gratitude at the way his astonishing skills and smiling demeanour lit up the game of squash.
Former rivals got in touch to express their feelings about his phenomenal talent and his massive contribution to the game.
Nick Matthew, who featured in many thrilling battles against Ramy, wrote: “He was a once in a generation player. He was the only player I ever played (when I was at the top of my game) who made me go away and think more about how to stop them than trying to get better myself.”
Both players won the world title three times. And Matthew added: “When you hadn’t played him in a few months you could be in your fittest condition but he still winded you with the speed of the game and how early he took it. And that backhand cross court volley nick was unplayable at times.
“He was pretty much a genius at work and a pleasure to play against so many times. I feel very privileged to have played as many times as we did. He helped raise the game of squash to new levels.”
Danny Lee, a former top player and now Head of Squash at the fabulous St George’s Hill club in Surrey, recalled an early meeting with the young Ramy when he first appeared in England.
He said: “I thought Tom Richards was a pretty special prospect as a young boy but rumours came in, from a St George’s Hill second team player who worked in the Middle East, that there was an Egyptian boy called Ramy Ashour, a year younger than Tom who was even better.
“That fact was proven a year or so later when Tom was comprehensively beaten in the British Open Under 13 final .
“They met again two years later in the Under-15 final. Ramy’s leg was already ominously strapped. I sat with Jonah Barrington, who was obviously impressed by Ramy , who won 3-1 this time and oozed class particularly at the key moments of the match.
“Three or four years later I received several calls and texts from a very concerned Mrs Ashour , whose son was embarking on his first major trip on his own.
“My club staged the Saudi qualifying event and I remember Ramy brilliantly dispatching Simon Parke 3-0 and I knew then for sure that he would probably be world champion one day.
“Ramy’s mother was right to be worried, but she would have been proud of the way her son conducted himself on that trip and subsequently throughout his career. I found him polite, gregarious and funny.
“His abilities on court were phenomenal and he was without doubt the most entertaining player ever to reach the very top of the game.
“He combined flamboyant stroke play with exceptional retrieving and his ability to do the unexpected well set him apart from his peers.
“Without the injuries he would have won many more world titles and it’s sad that he was unable to compete much in the last few seasons.
“Ramy’s retirement leaves a big void and he will be greatly missed by the game that he has given so much to. A true great of squash and a unique man.”
Tom Richards, who was on the receiving end of that beating in the British Junior Open, wrote on Twitter: “Sad to see @RamyAshour retire but what a legend of the game.
“Having first played him as an 11 year old and not even managing to get a point, his genius was evident early on and every match we played was a real pleasure, even that one! A great character who will be sorely missed.”
Australia’s Cameron Pilley said: “One of the all-time greats has announced his retirement. Possible/probable GOAT!
“So many things to say about Ramy but I loved the spirit in which he played the game and the way he carried himself both on and off court. He was a once in a generation player.”
Women’s squash legend Nicol David of Malaysia was full of respect for Ramy, both on and off court. Like Ramy, she recently announced her imminent departure from the PSA World Tour and, like the Egyptian, she intends to put her massive experience to good use by mentoring a new generation of players.
She took to Instagram to write: “Ramy, a talent like yours has not been seen in the world of squash and you have shined brightly for us to witness true art in motion on the squash tour. Thank you for sharing your kindness, grace and spirit for all of us to admire and be inspired.
“May you recover from any pain that you’re going through right now and that your body and mind can be free from the trauma that you have put it all on the line to fulfil your passion for squash.
“Look forward to all you have going for you with the next chapter in life and I wish you every success in anything you do. I am and always will be inspired by you.”
Another great friend and rival, Gregory Gaultier, also took to Instagram to offer his views, saying: “Tough to see/hear the news about my good friend @ramyashourr. He has always put squash to another level, has revolutionised the game, gave it much more interest. He won everything in an amazing/impressive way, so talented but to me the most perseverant player after trying to come back with all those injuries, sometimes playing only once or twice a year and still winning those events. Very sad to go out cause of your body letting you down, you tried it all.
“You inspired everyone, gave so many smiles to people whenever you were around and stepping on court. It was a privilege to play you so many times and having to make myself push harder in the training.
“I wish you the best for your next chapter, i m sure all the qualities you have and showed during your squash career will drive you to be as successful in whatever you do. A true legend, the tour will never be the same…We’ll catch up soon.”
Daryl Selby added: “So sad to see this, on his day probably the best player to ever play the game. Absolutely loved watching him play and absolutely loved sharing a court with him. He took the sport to the next level and we will all miss him. Absolute legend.”
American number one Amanda Sobhy wrote: “Sad to read, but what a privilege it was to grow up & watch @RamyAshour play. One of a kind squash talent & overall human being. The squash tour will surely miss you, but at least I can still see you in NYC.”
Ashour has been ravaged by injury over the past decade and suffered a range of hamstring and knee issues. The latter has kept him out of action since last May, with his final PSA appearance coming at the 2018 British Open.
Announcing his retirement, he said: “I’m not the biggest fan of beginnings and endings. During my 25 years on the squash court, I won a combined eight World Championships (including senior, junior and team), and I never loved anything more than I have loved the game of squash. Squash has given me so much but also took a lot from me physically and mentally.
“While I look towards the next stage of my journey, I have to thank the people who have been with me every step of the way. First of all, my parents and my brother, who have always been there, have always been my biggest supporters and motivators, and who shared with me my best and worst times.
“I also want to thank my close friends, who have stood by me. Thank you to all my coaches, who helped me get to the next level. Thank you to all my sponsors, Prince rackets, Pharco Pharmaceuticals, CIB Bank and Salming Sports.
“Last but not least, I want to say that I am grateful for all of you (the fans), the people I don’t know personally, who have always believed in me, you guys are the biggest reason I was always pushing to win.”
PSA Chief Executive Alex Gough said: “Ramy has inspired countless of aspiring squash players around the world and is without a doubt one of the most talented players the game has ever seen.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ramy for his contributions to the PSA Tour over the past 15 years and everyone at the PSA wishes him well for the future.”
Ramy’s brother Hisham, head coach at the CityView club in New York, provided a fitting finale with this post on Facebook: “The time has come my brother. The one and only Ramy Ashour has decided to step down after along fight with injuries.
“I have seen it all from the beginning. From day one it started by winning the nationals when you were nine, under 10 years old then saw you win British Opens, World Opens and a lot more. Also had the privilege to play with you in the same team alongside Mo Shorbagy and Karim Darwish to win the World Open in Germany in 2011.
“I’ll never forget your crazy moves, waking up 25 minutes before your match and your long naps, and you would wake up, start jumping in the room then take a freezing coldd shower and then you go and win.
“We played almost 8 years on the tour together. It was a hell of a journey ..we are also lucky to have had team players like mum and dad Mohamed Ashour and Dalal Nowaiah they were always there to help push and protect.
“Today we won’t mourn or cry over you stepping away, in fact we should celebrate an amazing career of someone who was able to inspire thousands of people and had a huge impact on a lot of them .. ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for the one and only RAMYYYYYY ASHOURRRRRR.’
Readers are invited to leave their own tributes to Ramy in the Comments Section below.
Pictures courtesy of PSA, Steve Line, Patrick Lauson, Patricia Lyons, Dan Bogosh, Marian Kraus