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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on January 23, 2024

Exploring Egypt's Domination Of Squash

It's no secret that Egypt is the current powerhouse when it comes to squash.

If we look at professional squash, a huge number of top-ranked men's and women's players are Egyptian, and, this has been the case for some time now.

However, this is also the case when we look at the junior squash scene too. In the recent 2024 British Junior Open (which is one of the biggest tournaments in the world for juniors), every age group was won by an Egyptian.

Just think about that for a moment, that's every single first-place trophy in the tournament, from girls and boys under 11s all the way up to girls and boys under 19s, was won by an Egyptian player.

They certainly must be doing something right!

In light of that crazy result, I thought it'd be interesting to delve a bit deeper into Egyptian squash, its history, the Egyptian style of play, what the Egyptian coaching strategies are (or may be), and what the future looks like.

Before I dive in, I just want to note that I'm not much of an expert when it comes to squash history. Lots of the information in this article comes from research that I'm doing in real-time as I write.

This is one of the reasons I love creating articles like this so much, it gives me the opportunity as well as motivation to learn more about squash and its roots.

I would hope that there aren't any inaccuracies, however, if you do spot something that isn't quite right, please get in touch and let me know.

The History Of Egyptian Squash

Squash was first brought to Egypt by British soldiers in the early 1930s with the first courts being built in Cairo.

Within no time, Egypt began producing some world-class players, one of the first and most notable being Amr Bey.

Bey, who came from a tennis and polo background, first won the British Open title in 1933, then went on to win it five more times after that (achieving six consecutive wins in total from 1933 to 1938).

Despite passing away in 1988, Amr received the World Squash Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for his incredible, pioneering success in the sport.

Squash's popularity in Egypt carried on growing throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, with players such as Mahmoud Karim, Abou Taleb, Ibrahim Amin, and many many more, coming in and dominating the professional scene.

Egypt had a ton of top 20 players during this time which really demonstrated the country's excellence in squash.

The growth of the sport during this time combined with the number of high-achieving players coming out of Egypt must have been a real inspiration for a younger generation to also pick up a racquet and start playing too.

Almost like a ripple effect, this will interest more people in the sport, develop new coaching approaches, and ultimately churn out more top-level players.

Ahmed Barada is another big name that pops up often when talking about Egyptian squash history. He was born in 1977 and, after an incredibly successful junior and senior career, retired in 2001.

According to many of the sources I looked at online, Barada was actually a major catalyst for Egyptian squash. Supposedly, his success influenced the Egyptian government to invest heavily in the sport, building clubs all over the country and encouraging recreational/leisure play amongst the general population.

Originally, it seemed as though the sport was generally played by more wealthy people, however, this investment made squash more accessible to everybody.

Following this, squash became a major sport across the country and it would often be featured in literature and movies (something that's quite rare in Western countries).

Now, as we moved into the 1980s and 1990s, this was when Pakistan began to make a big splash on the scene, producing some of the most famous and successful players in the history of the sport such as Jahangir and Jansher Khan.

Pakistan could definitely have been considered the top country in the sport during this period thanks to their dominance right at the very top of the rankings, however, Egypt certainly wasn't far behind and still had an abundance of superb players within the top 20 or 30.

Ahmed Barada was pushing and beating many of those top players throughout his career during the end of the 20th century. He won gold in the 1997 World Games, he was part of the team that won gold during the 1999 World Team Championships, and he narrowly lost the 1999 World Open against Scotland's Peter Nicol.

Barada and Nicol developed a pretty exciting rivalry at this stage in their career which was always a thrill for crowds. However, in the year 2000, Barada was stabbed by an unknown attacker, and, although he managed to return to squash after he recovered, it was short-lived and he retired in 2001.

Now we're in a period (the 2000s and 2010s) that many professional squash fans will remember very fondly.

This was when Egypt really took hold of professional squash again, however, there was still a pretty close battle with England during this time too. The battle for World No.1 was very tight-knit and it was always change.

I often wish I had watched professional squash during this period as some of the sport's most legendary players were in their prime, Karim Darwish, Amr Shabana, and of course, Ramy Ashour, to name a few. I was just a little too young, unfortunately!

Karim Darwish achieved consistent success in the 2000s, reaching World No.1 in 2009. Amr Shabana is considered one of the best players in history and was renowned for making the sport look so easy, he won four World Open titles during his career, with victories in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009.

Ramy Ashour, who is many squash player's favourite player, rose to prominence in the early 2010s, becoming a legendary figure in Egyptian (and worldwide) squash. He brought an innovative and dynamic style to the game, winning multiple World Championships and reaching World No. 1.

In the image a little further down, Ashour is the one diving...

I could go on forever about Ashour and Shabana in particular as, although I wasn't watching professional squash as during their primes, I've watched endless hours of footage of them both on YouTube and the PSA World Tour website.

Anyway, that was a bit of a deep-dive into Egypt's fruitful squash history, now we arrive at the modern age...


Ramy Ashour (diving) vs Mohamed ElShorbagy (orange t-shirt) - Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

Egypt And The Modern Professional Squash Scene

As I write this, Egypt has 9 men and 9 women in the world's top 20. In fact, if we look just to the women's category, the top 3 players have been pretty much the same for an incredibly long time.

Nour ElSherbini, Nouran Gohar, and Hania El Hammamy have been jossling for that top spot for what feels like years now.

They play an insane standard of squash and, although they don't necessarily win every match and every tournament (because, of course, they can't), you can tell that they just play a different style (which we'll talk about in the next section) and at a different level from the others.

Although players such as Nele Gilis and Amanda Sobhy (who are currently sitting at rankings 4 and 5) often claim wins against these players, they aren't doing so consistently enough to overtake them in the rankings (just yet).

Looking to the men's, the World No.1 spot has changed from being held by an Egyptian every now and then in recent years, with New Zealand's Paul Coll and Peru's Diego Elias also claiming the position.

However, Egypt's Ali Farag has now held the World No.1 spot since around June time last year and I don't see him losing it anytime soon. He's playing unbelievably well at the moment.

The young, controversial Mostafa Asal has also held that World No.1 spot when he was just 21, now, aged 22 and just having returned from a ban, he will be seeking that top spot again.

Mohamed ElShorbagy is another big name in Egyptian squash, in fact, he's been on the scene for an incredibly long time and just became the youngest player to reach 700 matches on the PSA World Tour since records began.

Mo is the guy in the image a little further up who isn't diving.

He turned pro in 2006 and had reached the top 10 by 2010, he's pretty much stayed there ever since, which is a ridiculous achievement. He was high up in the rankings when players such as Ramy Ashour, Amr Shabana, and Karim Darwish were in their primes.

However, the reason I didn't mention him above is because he's still going very very strong right now!

Although Mo ElShorbagy is now an English citizen and plays under the English flag, he was born in Egypt and only made this transition recently, I think it's still important to feature him as he certainly achieved a lot while representing Egypt! The same goes for his brother Marwan ElShorbagy who also recently became an English citizen.

If one thing is clear, Egypt have produced an unmatched number of squash legends, and, when players like Farag and ElShorbagy retire, I would say that they have already secured their status as legendary.

I also want to mention two of my favourite players on the PSA World Tour, Mazen Hesham, and Karim Abdel Gawad (who are both Egyptian). All I'm saying is, if you've never watched either of these guys before, if you ever get the chance, make sure to watch them.

The reason I (and many others) love watching them so much is down to their style of play, which leads me onto the next section...

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Karim Gawad (pale blue t-shirt) vs Mazen Hesham (red t-shirt) - Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

The Egyptian Style Of Play

If I had to sum up the Egyptian style of play in two words, they would be attacking and pace. Although the two kind of come hand in hand, I think there are players who demonstrate different percentages of each element.

Staying on the topic of Karim Abdel Gawad (seen in the image above in the pale blue t-shirt) and Mazen Hesham (also seen in the image above wearing a red t-shirt), these two guys do a good job of portraying the attacking element of Egyptian squash.

You literally never know when either of these guys is going to go for a winner (which also brings deception into the mix).

I actually did a training session with a good friend of mine who is also one of the top coaches in my area, he was telling me that he had been to the British Junior Open and had learned a lot from watching the Egyptian juniors playing.

He said that the key thing he noticed was that, when there was an opportunity to attack, they would often just go for it, regardless of when it was in the rally. Sometimes it could be within the first couple of shots, sometimes it could be after a one-minute-plus rally.

I think this is a very interesting point to think about. Typically, when I was coached, I was always taught to build up a rally using lengths and then waiting to force the perfect opportunity to take it in short. I would never attack or take it short too early in the rally. But now I think about it, why not?

Apparently, the Egyptian juniors would go for a winner or kill shot within two or three shots of a rally if the opportunity was there. Of course, this is a high-risk high-reward strategy, but, it seemed to be working wonders for the Egyptians who were taking their opponents so off-guard with these early attacks.

Going back to Gawad and Hesham, these guys are very capable of slotting in winners from all over the court, whether it's a soft, neatly placed drop shot, or a hard kill shot.

This is why their matches are so exciting to watch.

It also forces their opponents to have to cover all corners of the court right from the start of every rally, which takes its toll physically as well as mentally.

Just think, if you've been brought up learning to play a steady, safe style of squash using lengths and cross courts to build up a rally and grind your opponent down, then it'll be quite a shock to the system coming up against a player who is hitting all sorts of angles and going for winners at completely unpredictable times.

If you train to be focused on this attacking style, then you will undoubtedly get better at it, which seems to be what differs Egyptian players from other countries.

Now looking to the second element of Egyptian squash, pace, Mohamed ElShorbagy, Youssef Ibrahim, and Mostafa Asal are my favourite examples of this.

These guys often take their space and stand incredibly far forward on the T. Generally, most players stand a step or half a step behind the T line, but, it's not uncommon to see these guys actually on the T line while they're waiting for the next shot.

These three are unbelievably good at controlling the pace because they take the ball so early and volley so often, they don't give their opponents any time to get into the rally or into a rhythm.

They often hit their lengths hard and low with a lot of pace with their target often being two bounces before the ball hits the back wall, whereas, in comparison, other players tend to hit more steady, medium-paced lengths that may be a little tighter to try to squeeze weak shots out of their opponents.

By the way, this is exactly the same case in the women's category too.

Those top three players (ElSherbini, Gohar, and Hammamy) all play at such a fast pace and hit the ball so hard, that it just doesn't give their opponents any time to get into the swing of things. Gohar in particular puts an unbelievable amount of power on her shots.

There was a time when it seemed as though Paul Coll had figured out a way to beat this Egyptian style when he became World No.1. He actually slowed things down even more and used a steady-paced style with lots of very accurate lifts and lobs, which reduced the Egyptian player's ability to volley and go for their attacking shots.

However, Coll's strategy relies on impeccable accuracy and tightness with no room for loose shots. Not many other players in the world could replicate this and sustain it for full matches, this is what keeps Coll at the top of the rankings, still competing well with his Egyptian rivals.

However, once the Egyptian players had figured out his strategy, they must have trained hard to counter it and regain control of the pace. Coll only held that World No.1 spot for around four months in total.

It was the same case for Diego Elias.

Unless you're going to try to match the Egyptian style of play and beat them at their own game, it seems as though the best approach is to slow things down and play as tightly and accurately as possible, which is much easier said than done.

The last thing I would mention about the Egyptian style of play is their swing. Egyptians often play with a shorter, more deceptive swing, whereas players from other countries often have a slower, larger, and more sweeping swing style.

Again, I believe that this comes from the way that they are coached, but, Egyptian players can still generally hit with a lot of power and accuracy despite having less time and a smaller swing on the ball. It's very interesting!

Egyptian Coaching

Now, I know pretty much nothing about Egyptian coaching and what sort of approaches they take, but, I would assume that they focus on drills and routines that complement the attacking, high-paced style of play I mentioned above.

There's a drill that I do quite often which we call 'Egyptian 3/4', for example, that has one rule, you can only play the ball in the front 3/4 of the court.

Depending on how hard you want it to be, the ball either has to bounce first bounce in front of the back line of the service box (if you want it to be easier), or, it has to bounce second bounce in front of the back line of the service box (if you want it to be harder).

Now, I don't know if they play this drill in particular in Egypt, but, I would imagine that they play drills of a similar pace and caliber. This will condition players to be able to sustain this style of play for longer and longer periods of time too, which is a big part of it.

I know for a fact that, if I try to volley lots, hit very hard, and attack often, I wear myself out pretty quickly, however, if I play slower and steadier games, I can last pretty long in comparison (as this is generally what I've trained for most of my life).

But, another factor that plays into Egyptian coaching is investment.

Since squash is such a major sport in Egypt (in comparison to it being more of a niche sport in Western countries), there is a heavy amount of investment from the government into facilities and coaching.

I read an article about this that quoted 'success breeds success', which, in Egypt's case, must play a big role.

How many Egyptian squash legends have I mentioned in this article? There are countless! I know for a fact that many Egyptian players stay involved in squash following their retirement, usually, this is in the form of coaching.

Then, they can pass down their expertise in the Egyptian style of play to the next generation and keep churning out incredible players, this could be down to the country's love of the sport as well as there being an opportunity to make good money.

In other countries, England for example, many professional players also take time either to learn another skill or go to university so they can find an alternative job once they finish their professional career. There definitely isn't much money in playing as a professional or coaching unless you're doing so at the very top level.

However, I do think that this is changing slowly, especially in countries like the USA, where squash seems to be experiencing a bit of a boom. I know quite a few well-experienced coaches who have moved to the States to coach after being offered good money.

The very same article I'm referring to above also talks a bit about the way Egyptians train at the younger and lower levels, and, it sounds slightly different to how we do it!

It's not uncommon for players and families to go to the squash club for full days at a time, staying for lunch and making a day of their training, whereas, in the other countries I've played squash in, training sessions are generally one or two hours maximum.

Unless you're doing a squash camp with a group over a weekend (which is quite a rare occurrence), I think we generally train in a shorter, more intense way.

Whereas Egyptians, on the other hand, spend hours making tweaks and changes in a slower-paced, more digestible way (at least that's what I gained from this article, although I'm not sure how reliable it is as a source)!

Egypt has some incredibly well-experienced coaches who are held in the highest regard in the world of squash. One of the most renowned is Omar Abdel Aziz, who currently coaches players like Karim Gawad and Hania El Hammamy.

You will see him at most of the major squash tournaments talking to his players in between games. But, of course, that is absolutely not to say that the rest of the world doesn't have good coaches too.

Rob Owen has recently been in the spotlight for coaching some of the best players in the world right now, nearly all of whose rankings have increased substantially since receiving his coaching.

I think the future is looking bright, but, let's talk about it in a little more depth...

GS045794Egypt's World No.16, Amina Orfi, currently aged 16 - Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

What Does The Future Hold?

When I started watching professional squash more often, around four of five years ago, it certainly seemed as though the Egyptian reign would be around for the foreseeable future.

However, since then, there have been glimpses of other players coming through and demonstrating that it is possible to overcome them. Paul Coll and Diego Elias are the primary two.

Nele Gilis and Amanda Sobhy are also both showing that they are capable of beating the big three (ElSherbini, Gohar, and Hamammy) more and more often.

I believe that the scales are beginning to even out, which makes it incredibly hard to predict what the future holds.

Part of me would like to say that other players from other countries are going to overtake and dominate, however, Egypt has shown time and time again that, if anybody does begin to overtake them, they train for it and respond accordingly.

However, what I find particularly interesting is that, other than Egypt, it's not necessarily about countries. There isn't really another country that threatens Egypt, it's more like individual players.

Nele Gilis is from Belgium, Amanda Sobhy is from the USA, Paul Coll is from New Zealand, Diego Elias is from Peru. Then there are players like Joel Makin from Wales, Victor Crouin from France, Gina Kennedy from England, and Joelle King from New Zealand.

All of these guys are more than capable of beating the top Egyptian players, they just need to be able to do so a little more consistently, and, I think we are slowly but surely heading in that direction.

With that said, I hope this article hasn't seemed anti-Egypt at all. There's nothing wrong with them dominating the sport, it gives everyone else a major goal to aim for, but, other countries and players need to be taking the necessary steps to actually attempt to beat Egypt.

I haven't seen much evidence of this just yet.

Results like those seen at the British Junior Open could be a glimpse into what the future may look like. Although I'm aware of a bunch of incredible junior players coming up in England and the USA, the overall Egyptian dominance still seems to be very present.

And, in the more immediate term, there are also younger players such as Mostafa Asal (who I mentioned further up), Hania El Hammamy who has been in the top 3 for what seems like forever despite being only 23, and 16-year-old Amina Orfi (pictured a little further up) who is already at World No.16 and pushing many of those top 10 players!

It seems as though the present and future will remain Egypt-dominated for the foreseeable, but, that doesn't mean cracks won't start to form!

Anyway, the primary purpose of this article was for me (and you) to learn a little more about Egyptian squash, and, to explore the areas in which we could perhaps take a leaf out of their book, because there's no denying that they are doing things right, and, I'm sure they will keep on doing so.

This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!

Published by Alex Robertson January 23, 2024
Alex Robertson