‘Nouran is now 100 per cent healthy and will develop her game through this season’
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW by RJ MITCHELL
IN the first part of an exclusive interview with Squash Mad, super coach Rodney Martin has revealed his belief that the rivalry between his charge Nouran Gohar, British Open Queen Hania El Hammamy and world champion Nour El Sherbini is lifting the level of the PSA women’s tour.
In particular, the intensity of the battle between Gohar, the current World No.1 and El Hammamy, who reached a career high of World No.2 after she defeated Gohar in the final of the recent CIB Egyptian Open, has been flecked with flash points.
But Martin, the 1991 men’s world champion, says that rivalry is a key part of elite sport and has harked back to his own days at the top of the game when he was regularly locking horns with Jahangir Khan, Chris Dittmar and Jansher Khan to reign supreme.
With Gohar’s summer disrupted by a reputed shoulder injury, Martin says that the world No.1 is now only starting to play freely and has admitted that her progress at the US Open this week will provide important markers as to her continued progress and development under his astute eye.
That sends out a scary warning to the rest of the pack and Martin said: “Obviously it is good to have rivalries, and in the women’s game especially, where the top three have separated themselves from the rest over the last season or two and the level of squash they are playing when they face each other is unbelievable. That is good for the game.
“It is also good for the other players as they are having to train harder and I think that someone like Amanda Sobhy has clearly done more work over the summer and is moving that bit better. So obviously the rest of the players need to do something about it or they will keep getting smashed by these top three girls.
“So for me that is good for the Tour and good for squash in general, and I don’t see any negativity about it at all. Everyone has rivalries and if you are at the top of any sport you are not going to be best friends with the person you are in competition with.
“That is just not the case, so I don’t worry about people commenting about this or that or what has gone on in the past, for me that is just normal.
“You just aren’t going to get on that well with the person you are competing with to win tournaments at the highest level. It is what it is. That said, they are going to go and play in the World Team event for Egypt together so it is not like they can’t play in the same team.
“With me when I was on the Tour with Chris Dittmar, Jahangir and Jansher, Chris Robertson and my brother Brett, we could put aside our differences when we came together as part of a team and you can separate that from competing as an individual. That is the same with Nouran, Hania and Nour.
“That is just life on tour and people are making more about this than it needs to be and I just don’t see it being any different to any other rivalries in the world of sport. If you have someone trying to take the World No.1 ranking from you and there are two or three of you fighting for this that is just intense rivalry.”
Gohar has already dispatched Emily Whitlock for the loss of just 13 points in her opening match at the Arlen Specter Centre and will face countrywoman Yathreb Adel in round three tonight in a match she is a short-odds favourite to win.
The candid Martin admits that the week ahead is a pivotal one for Gohar as she looks to defend the title she won by beating Hammamy in a fraught four-game encounter last year.
He said: “This is a telling week to see how Nouran plays and I am confident she will play better than she did in Egypt so all these things are looking good and we will keep building, but Nouran is going out there to win every tournament she plays.
“Whether she actually wins them we will see but as long as she feels she is improving that is the key factor. We focus on Nouran playing as well as she can and focusing on what she needs to do to get better and if that happens the results will take care of themselves.”
However, Martin is adamant that at 25 years old there is still plenty of room for development in Gohar’s game and with the former British Open champion now working full-time with him the Aussie believes that at peak health Gohar is only heading in one direction.
Martin said: “I am very much looking forward to seeing how the US Open unfolds as Nouran has improved on (her performances in) Egypt and is feeling more confident every week as we move on.
“There are lots of things we are still trying to build into her game and unfortunately she had some injury problems during the summer and we couldn’t get the work done I felt we needed to focus on.
“But we are now at the point where she is 100 per cent healthy and we have no problems, and I feel like she has improved since Egypt and done a lot of good work since then. Now she is in a much better place physically and mentally and is hitting the ball better this week already, and in that respect has gone up another level.
“For Nouran to have gone to Egypt and be undone in a lot of areas and still make the final and make it tough for Hania to win that final it’s all positive, as Nouran and I know what has gone on during these summer months.
“I’m not going into it but it is one of those things where we didn’t get the opportunity to work on the areas we wanted to. But as Nouran improves we will get the opportunity to do that and develop her game even more ¬– and that will keep happening through the season.”
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour