Ross Norman believes Ali Farag’s chances of reclaiming squash’s World No.1 ranking are no better than 50/50.
The three-time world champion returned to competitive squash at the Pittsburgh Open last week after a four-month injury hiatus caused by the debilitating knee condition known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome and looked far from optimum mobility in losing to compatriot Youssef Soliman in the quarter-finals.
The great Norman was the man who won arguably the most famous squash match in history when he defeated Jahangir Khan in the final of the 1986 World Open to end the Pakistani’s unsurpassed five-year winning streak.
But Norman also battled back from a career threatening injury after a parachute accident in 1983 saw him side – lined for eight-months and almost ended his career.
Reflecting on all of this the 1986 world champion said: “I wouldn’t put it past Ali to get back to the top but I would put it no better than 50/50 because of the arrival of (Mostafa) Asal and Diego (Elias) whereas without them the chances would be considerably higher he would get back to No.1.
“These guys are both in their early 20s and with Elias winning the last three titles to go World No.2 and of course Mostafa Asal now World No.1 that next generation is already firmly here.
“A lot of it will be down to whether Ali has the appetite to do it and put in the hard yards. When it happened to me I was only about 24-years-old and was only a few years into my pro career and my appetite was massive.
“Then after my accident I had an eight-month lay-off and really it built up an even greater appetite, so there was only one way for me and that was to use it as motivation.
“But with Ali he has done it all, he is a three-time world champion, he has been World No.1 on several occasions over a long period of time and now he is 30.
“That said his career is not over by any stretch of the imagination and if the medical advice he has had from several experts is that the problem is not career threatening then I would think he will still have that appetite to get back to No.1.”
Yet as Norman admits no one can really tell how a long term injury will hold up until they are right back in the heat of battle: “If you have been off the circuit for four months like Ali it is going to be tough to hit the ground running physically, and just pick up where you left off and that will be the same mentally as you have to be able to trust your body.
“If you were vulnerable before the injury happened then you are probably even more vulnerable when you come back from it although the rest probably has done him good.
“But now he is back and playing tournaments Ali has just got to let it go, he can’t compromise or pull back as he won’t stand a chance so he will need to give it 100% when he is on court.
“Now more than ever Ali’s preparation, his warm-down, stretching, sports science and all the other stuff he will be having to do are going to be vital.
“Ali will not want to let his career go at 30-years-old and he has the tools to get back up there he just needs to make sure his body holds up, if it does then there is the possibility he can get back to No.1 but it will be a tough road.”