INTERVIEW: Squash Mad speaks to the young Egyptian on the cusp of taking PSA top spot – with a message to rival coaches
Mostafa Asal enters this week’s Houston Open knowing that a place in squash history beckons.
For should the 21-year-old make the final he will become the 22nd world No.1 of the professional era since Qamar Zaman became the first in 1975.
From the likes of Geoff Hunt, Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, via Peter Nicol and Amr Shabana, through to Ramy Ashour, Nick Matthew, Gregor Gaultier and Mohamed El Shorbagy, and Ali Farag, the man he could topple from the summit of squash, Asal’s potential predecessors are a veritable who’s who of the great in our game.
But as he stands on the cusp of joining these immortals ‘The Raging Bull’ was keen to share the lessons he has learned along the way which will, he hopes, help him take the final step on his journey to the top.
Asal said: “It is a dream I have always had to be No.1; it is a thing at my club! It would make me prouder than to be a British Open or World Open champion and that’s because to be at the top ranking you have to win the biggest titles anyway.
“These guys like Jonah (Barrington) and Geoff [Hunt] are amazing, they built the professional game and their legacy is so important to our game, we must never forget what they have done for squash.”
Asal said that winning El Gouna after a two-month suspension, coupled with a fine 2022, has culminated in a fine year.
He says: “To be suspended from something you love is really tough, few players get suspended in squash and that was tough mentally.
“Beating world No.1 (Ali Farag) and world No.2 (Paul Coll) was some of the best squash I have played, it was amazing really.
“After El Gouna I played World Tour Finals and I love the vibe of this tournament and it is at my home and I love how I can interact with the crowd as I am a football fan and I love mixing it with the fans.
“I was also defending champ at World Tour Finals and that was amazing and to win the tournament to take back to back titles to finish the season on a high was awesome.
“But the gods give you a present and for sure this season there have been ups and downs but I have rolled with these and always come back strong and I am proud of that. “
Asal’s hopes of going top have been aided by the withdrawal of defending champion Ali Farag from the draw in Houston due to an ongoing knee injury.
But as he eyes the possibility of becoming the game’s big beast at the second time of asking Asal admits that he has learned some vital lessons which can help him achieve his career goal: “In the summer when I was No.2 last time it was an amazing off season but I think I worked too hard for the No.1 spot to be honest. I have never had the feeling of being No.1 and it made me edgy just how much I wanted to get there.
“It was like I’m thinking: ‘If I win this tournament I can go No.1’ instead of just focussing on each match in itself.
“To have had the suspension and missed out on a lot of tournaments and still make No.2 by end of year was very pleasing. It has been a good fight, to play only 11 tournaments in the year and be No.2.
“But I’d also like to wish Ali a speedy recovery, he was playing so well and suddenly having this injury was tough for him and tough for all of us in Egyptian Squash.
“Injuries are hard and it happened to me in Singapore with the forearm and I feel for Ali so much.”
While his dynamic explosive squash makes Asal the biggest draw in the modern game he is a player who has polarised opinion like no other in recent times and the man who would be king had some interesting words for his fans and critics alike.
“There have been some coaches,” he says, “who have said some disappointing things and what was tough was that these are guys I see at tournaments and I look into their faces and they smile back all nice and we shake hands.
“Then the next day I hear that they have been saying this or that, so if you have something to say then say it to my face: ‘Mostafa you did one, two, three wrong.’
“I have all the respect for these guys but if they are going to say things about me then at least tell me to my face you are going to do that, send me a message just don’t hide behind a smile.
“So guys like Jonah and Geoff, the positive things they have said about me have helped me get through all of that when it was getting me down and now it doesn’t bother me and I want to thank them so much.”