Ramy Ashour is the best squash player in the world. The Egyptian champion is unbeaten in 41 games and his victory at the Qatar World Open in December propelled him to the number one spot and he intends to hold it. On his return to Egypt, 25-year-old Ashour spoke to Daily News Egypt to talk about his victory and the sport of squash in Egypt.
How did it feel to become the first Egyptian to win the British Open since Abdel Fatah Abu Taleb in 1966?
It was very special. Many Egyptians have made it to the final since then but none have won. I even made it to the final in 2012, but didn’t come out on top. It was like the tournament was jinxed! The British Open is not like other competitions; it is the most prestigious event on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) tour. To break the record of 50 years or so, it was very special; it means a lot and is totally different to any other tournament that I have won before.
How was it returning to Egypt as a champion? Have you had much time to see your friends and family or has there been a fanfare of celebrations?
Yeah, there hasn’t been too much, but the celebrations are taking place in a different way through interviews with television programmes and newspapers focusing on me and the record the last couple of days. I have been number one in the world since December 2012 when I won the World Open in Qatar. I haven’t lost a match since last August 2012, a run of 41 matches, which I am very proud of. However, this puts a lot of pressure on me to keep going, but it is something I enjoy at the same time.
Also, everyone has been concentrating on the 2020 Olympic bid I did in Russia that I just returned from last Friday. That was a great experience for me and I learnt a lot from being a part of this presentation. It was harder than a five-set match, in terms of pressure, having the responsibility to represent a whole nation on your own. It was very big.
In your opinion why should squash be an Olympic sport?
Squash is an amazing game; it’s entertaining and very healthy. For me it is a lifestyle, it changes a person not just physically but also mentally. It totally changed me in terms of discipline, commitment and understanding things on court. This little court can seem small but there are many details to it that broaden your mind and can also help you in the real world. It’s an amazing game for me and it is a great gift.
I also believe that squash deserves a chance. We have tried twice to be included in the Olympics and I think that now is our time. The PSA has done its best effort to try and win the 2020 bid. The game now is presented very differently; the relationship between the spectators and the players is amazing; it’s very different than before. The venues we play in are also very different, we have one of the biggest factors that can impress anyone in the world in my opinion. We have a grass court that can be put in any iconic location around the world, which can make for an amazing tournament.
How will squash compare to the Olympic bids for wrestling and baseball?
They are great sports and they have all the respect from me and from the squash world, but at the same time I like to believe that we are bigger than those sports and that we have more potential and can introduce something different to the Olympic committee. These two have been included in the Olympics before so we can bring something different, and hopefully we will be included this time.
What is the training regime like to get you to the top of your game?
I stay as committed as I can be. I train five times a week, three times a day. I used to train six times a week, but since I have been picking up injuries I have had to start training smarter. I changed many things in my training schedule and my body is responding better to the five-day regime. I am still as fit as I was before.
Five of the top ten squash players in the world at the moment are Egyptian. Do you feel there is enough emphasis on the sport in Egypt, given that there is obviously talent to be found here?
There isn’t much awareness of and attention towards squash in Egypt. Squash players are great athletes and put in a lot of effort, so it’s very unfortunate. I’m saddened all the time when we speak about these great athletes in Egypt and people turn and ask “who are they?” The government and the federation should appreciate them more, but at the same we appreciate the hard times that Egypt is going through so we have to share this responsibility and not think about ourselves or be selfish about it.
It is our career and that’s what we live for. It doesn’t have to be a materialistic appreciation but just an appreciation through public awareness and showing matches on television and the federation and the minister would be following us and encouraging us, making us feel like we are doing something for the country, which is bigger than anything else.
You run the Inspire Squash Academy. Tell us a bit more about the work you do there?
Its been going great. I love the atmosphere and I love teaching the kids new things. I actually learn from the kids as well; they are the best people to learn from. They have fresh ideas and don’t really care what others think. They have no limits. The kids come up with replies to your questions, which are totally out of any frame or frontier that you would expect, so it’s really interesting. I am excited to teach them what I have learnt in my life. I believe I know a lot about squash and I believe I teach squash from a different perspective. I believe I can make a new Egyptian generation and that’s what I’m after; to create what I call the Egyptian chain of champions.
How can people get involved in squash in Egypt?
Well kids should start first by doing sports in general, a fitness work out until seven years old. Then they can join an academy or start playing at their own clubs. There is a big role for the parents; they have to keep the kids disciplined, make sure their kids love the game and are willing to take the journey.
Ashour made a special request to say a big thank you to his manager Fatma Hassan for all her hard work and support since she began working with him.