Thursday, February 9, 2023

Hania El Hammamy exclusive: “I can end the season as world no.1”

In part two of a wide-ranging interview with RJ Mitchell, Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy looks back at her 2022 highlights and reveals her focus on becoming world no.1 before the season is over.

In 2022 she became a first-time major winner and World Team champion but for Hania El Hammamy the highlight of the year came in the Far East.

It was at the Everbright Securities International Hong Kong Open that the 22-year-old delivered a sequence of three consecutive victories that confirmed Hammamy’s stated target of ending the season as world no.1 is very much within her compass. 

By her own admission when she saw the Hong Kong draw her heart sank, such were the obstacles between her and the PSA Platinum event title, yet what ensued provided the young Egyptian with arguably her greatest success yet. 

In the quarter-finals, Hammamy found herself pitched against Nour El Tayeb, who had inflicted a harrowing World Championship defeat on her younger compatriot – yet after dropping the opening game she prevailed in four. 

That booked El Hammamy a place in the semi-finals against arch-rival and world No.1 Nouran Gohar, in what turned out to be an 84-minute epic that ebbed and flowed all the way until she prevailed 11-2 in the fifth game. 

Waiting for her in the final was world champion Nour El Sherbini and again the dice were rolled over five torrid games spanning 89-minutes before El Hammamy edged an 11-9 finale in what was a squash classic for the ages. 

Now in part two of her exclusive interview with Squash Mad, after taking time to draw breath following Egypt’s triumph in the Women’s World Team Championships where she joined forces with her three rivals to despatch the USA in the final, Hamammy was keen to take stock. 

The British Open champion reflected: “In terms of the ultimate highlight of course the British Open is the biggest title out there apart from the World Championship and it has so much tradition and history with it and a special place in our sport. 

“But the unique manner in which I won Hong Kong, after coming through the semi-finals against Nouran in what was the toughest match we have ever played, and just how close it was all the way through was tough. 

“I know how I felt on the morning of the final, and it was very tough. Being able to perform at the same level again over an even longer duration against someone I respect as much as Nour, that is why I would say HK was actually my highlight. 

“When I saw the Hong Kong draw and saw that I would likely have Nour El Tayeb in the quarters and then what would come after if I could win that one, I felt like it was as tough a draw as I could have. 

“I do like challenges but this was massive and probably the toughest draw I have ever had in a tournament. It felt like all the toughest players were on my side.

 “I just backed myself to turn up and give it my best. Also I had lost to Nour El Tayeb the last time we met and I was just looking to try and win that match and get some revenge, but also my first win against her since the World Tour finals in 2020. 

“In each match I had a challenge and a purpose. Against Nouran I wanted to back up my win over her at the Egyptian Open, then in the final I just wanted to prove to myself that I could pick myself up after a tough semi – plus I had also lost to Nour in the final in Switzerland over five so that also gave me extra motivation. 

“It was amazing that I had to play against all of them and then we were team-mates at the World Team Championships!” 

Hania continued: “I am proud of having won four titles this year and also to have played in the Egyptian side which defended the women’s World Team Championships in Cairo. 

“Winning the British Open, El Gouna, the Egyptian and Hong Kong Opens it is definitely something I am very happy with. I used to be a bit harsh on myself with reaching semis and finals but not winning any more, but now I feel like I am being more consistent in winning tournaments.” 

El Hammamy has no doubt that her unparalleled success this year is supreme vindication of her decision to install Omar Abdel Aziz as her chief coach. 

She explained: “I was very consistent with the way I performed in the last couple of tournaments before Hong Kong. I won the first tournament of the season and then at the US Open things did not go as I had hoped but I never once doubted being coached by Omar, not for a second. 

“I knew what I was doing wrong in that match and that I had not performed as I wanted, but having Omar by my side helped me get back to where I wanted to be. 

“Then in the break after Switzerland we quickly worked on what we needed to work on and I bounced back quicker than anyone.” 

Looking forward to 2023, El Hammamy revealed that the experiences of the last year have equipped her to achieve a new target: “I’m playing ToC to start the New Year and my goal for 2023, even though I do not want to put a lot of pressure on myself, is to become world no.1. 

“After becoming world no.2 after winning the British Open I was in a hurry to get to no.1 and that did not work well for me, so now I have to learn from that. 

“So this time I am just focussing on me and what I need to do on court and I believe it is all in my hands. Whenever I put it in my mind I just perform well and that gives me the best chance to win tournaments rather than worry about rankings. 

“So I believe that if I just focus on myself and what I need to do to produce my best squash on the court then I can end the season as world No.1” 

Just when you thought the women’s game couldn’t get any better, the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down for 2023! 

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