Saturday, January 28, 2023

How Mostafa Asal can stay as world squash No 1 – Jansher Khan

Earlier this month, Mostafa Asal became the third youngest male player to become world No.1 in the professional era, beaten to the punch only by the Pakistani squash greats Jahangir Khan, the youngest ever global ruler at 18, and Jansher Khan.

Asal has now become the youngest No.1 since Jansher graced the game 35 years ago. In a Q&A with Jansher, who won a record eight World Open titles, he shared his thoughts on:

  • How Asal can make his stay at No.1 a lengthy one
  • How the young Egyptian can deal with the pressure
  • Movement issues that saw Marwan ElShorbagy retire in a controversial Houston Open semi-final which took Asal to world No.1

1: RJM: Mostafa is the youngest No.1 since you began your 513 week reign in January 1988, how did the pressure change for you when you became No.1?

Jansher: “When I became No.1 it was the happiest moment of my life. I just didn’t feel any extra pressure on me, so I was lucky that nothing changed in this respect. That was because for me it was normal to play with the senior guys who had been at the top of the rankings since I came through from the juniors and I believe that is the same for Mostafa. I was mentally very ready for that.

“My main focus was just to win every match that was up next and take it from there and if there is one piece of advice I can give Mostafa that it is it. Just focus on your next game and never get ahead of yourself. It worked very well for me!”

2: RJM: What is your advice to Mostafa on how to make his stay at No.1 a long one?

Jansher: “I must advise Mostafa that now is where the hard work really begins. I know he has suffered distraction outside the court but he must try and shut that out and focus on repeating the hard work that got him to No.1 and then aim to lift the intensity and quality of that.

“There are always parts of your game that can be improved, even at No.1! I never stopped trying to make these improvements and drive my game forward as I knew it was the only way to stay in front of my rivals.

“I have watched Mostafa in his recent tournaments in Houston and Hong Kong and I know what he is capable of and I know he can get better but again he must just focus on his game. The minute he walks through the door onto the practise court then producing his absolute best at maximum intensity will be all that matters and he must make it count.

“If he stays focussed I believe Mostafa is here to stay at No1 for a long time. Will he stay there as long as me, well time will tell!”

3: RJM: What is the toughest thing about being No.1?

Jansher: “I think it is that when you are No.1 you believe you should win every match and claim the maximum ranking points on offer every time and of course you can’t do that.

“So Mostafa must be aware that he can’t go out there with that attitude as it generates extra pressure and I know that he admitted he had made that mistake when he went No.2 for the first time in early 2022 and looking to go top-ranked.

“So again I say to Mostafa stay in the moment, continue to work hard and when disappointment happens shrug it off and look to the next match as if you keep winning your next match the titles will come and you will stay top.”

4: RJM: Mostafa has created a lot of controversy through his style of play and particularly in Houston in the semi-final against Marwan ElShorbagy that decided the match.

Do you think he needs to change his style or is it perhaps the other players being cute and trying to get him defaulted?

Jansher: “I do believe that Mostafa has work to do on his movement but I also know that he has said he is working hard to achieve this and avoid these controversies.

“I certainly do not believe he has ever tried to injure or hurt anyone intentionally but you also have to remember he is a big, very powerful athlete and at the top of the men’s game still relatively inexperienced. So he is learning all the time.

“As for the other guys I can’t answer for that, it was never something that interested me!”

5: RJM: The British Junior Open has just been held what are your thoughts on how the Pakistani kids did?

Jansher, who is head coach of Pakistani Junior Age Group squads at the elite National Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Facility: “We had a semi-finalist in the under-19s and a finalist in the under-13s and I very much believe that the talent and skill are there but what needs to improve is the amount of hard work and dedication the kids put in.

“All too often after a few hard rallies they are broken as they just don’t have the stamina. Believe me I know the amount of work that is needed to get to the top and that is an eight hour a day process.

Pakistan squash legends Jahangir Khan (right) and Jansher Khan

“It is up to me to get that message through and if they embrace this work ethic then we will produce champions again but not before.”

6: RJM: Jansher, how is your health? (In recent years Jansher has had back surgery and been diagnosed with Parkinson’s) 

Jansher: “By the grace of God Almighty I am well and enjoying a brisk daily one hour walk every morning.

“I then train our national under-13/15/17 and under-19s in the evening and after that I enjoy time with my family. Over the course of my career I sacrificed everything and almost all of my time to being the best squash player I could become for as long as possible and now it is important for me to give back to my family.”

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