11 Points with Ali Farag
Interview by ALAN THATCHER
1: Ali, welcome back to Canary Wharf. It’s great to see you back at the East Wintergarden in an incredibly strong draw. With four Egyptians at the top of the list, all world champions, it doesn’t get any better than that. All four players have different styles so, if you were to focus on the strengths and playing styles of each one, how would you describe each one? Let’s start with Mohamed:
Mohamed is explosive and lethal across the middle of the court with his great body positioning. But more importantly than squash, Mohamed is very resilient and you know it’s very hard to break him down mentally, which is something I admire about him.
2: Next up, how would you describe your own strengths and playing style?
It’s hard to talk about my own strengths, but I’d like to think that I move efficiently around the court while moving the ball in the right corners consistently, putting my opponents under pressure until they tire.
3: How about Tarek Momen?
Plays at a blistering pace with amazing drops and flicks, backed up with very quick feet to follow up his attacks. You would think the error percentage would be high with someone as attacking as he is, but he does amazingly well to not give easy points out of his racket (or at least not any more).
4: And Karim Abdel Gawad?
My Bogeyman. Have always hated playing against him since I was nine years old, and I think I always will. He reads the game so well so it’s hard to catch him off guard, while being very skillful himself so he makes it very hard for you to predict what his next shot is going to be. He makes it look so effortless.
5: Egypt won the World Team Championship in December, beating England in the final in Washington DC. How special was that moment?
It’s always special to put on the Egypt shirt on, let alone to bring the trophy home. I have always looked at the older generations of Egypt with pride, and could only dream of being there one day, so to be there for two consecutive tournaments, and bring the trophy home both times is and will always be my proudest moments!
6: It certainly wasn’t easy, with you and Tarek having tough battles against Simon Rosner and Joel Makin when you faced Germany and Wales. Please tell us about those two matches and the way players raise their game when they pull on the national shirt.
Obviously we go there with a lot of pressure being (on paper) the heavy favourites, but all other teams have got top players who play with a nothing to lose mindset but at the same time leave all their hearts out for their nation and team-mates. This makes for a tough psychological battle that we have to deal with, and so we’re super proud to have backed each other when one of us lost.
7: In October, you won the US Open in emphatic style. With your Harvard background, I guess you must feel very at home playing in the States.
I luckily do have a good record in the US indeed, and I am actually not sure if it’s got to do with me living there during my years at Harvard. It definitely does play a part, but I also love the US in general. Everything is available and around, the way major tournaments are set up is always comforting for the players, and I do like playing squash when I am enjoying the surrounding conditions. It also makes it 100 times better when Mike Way (Harvard head coach) is around. Probably my favorite human being!
8: As an alumni, I imagine you must follow the Harvard results closely. They seem to be doing well this season with a few 8-1 and 9-0 scorelines. I notice the girls are unbeaten as well.
I do follow them very, very closely. Mike Way has built a program that any alumni would be extremely proud of, not only for the fantastic results they pull off every weekend, but more importantly for the amazing culture that Mike has engrained in both teams, which help graduate great mature young men and women that I am lucky to be one of.
9: For those who may not know much about the development of American college squash, please describe the facilities at the Murr Centre and some of the other main college venues.
At the Murr Center where I trained every day with the Harvard Teams, we had 16 courts with one (very unique) four-wall glass court, and a fully-equipped spacious gym. I see a lot of the other venues getting modernised and this is exactly what we need to keep growing our beautiful sport in the US.
10: Your wife Nour El Tayeb has just had a busy run of tournaments in America. You must have been pleased to see her playing so well.
I was for sure! Nour is someone who inspires me on a regular basis and I know how much effort and resilience it took to play that well in this period of time. Proud of her is an understatement.
11: Tickets for Canary Wharf went on sale in October and we sold out in six days! How much have you been looking forward to coming back to London to play in front of full-house crowds every day?
I was really sad to miss out last year, but it makes it even more exciting to come back this year. Tim and the whole team do an amazing job of making us very comfortable, and the super-engaged crowd glued to the sidewalls create a one of a kind atmosphere!
Thank you, Ali.