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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on December 05, 2023

The Unbelievable Resurgence of Karim Abdel Gawad

So, unfortunately, this article is somewhat cursed.

I had been planning to write an blog post about the incredible return of my favourite squash player on the PSA World Tour, Karim Abdel Gawad, following his devastating injury in the 2020 Manchester Open final against Mohamed ElShorbagy (around September time I believe).

However, literally as I was about a quarter of the way through writing this article, I had Gawad's Hong Kong Open quarter-final match against Diego Elias playing in the background, and, unfortunately, Gawad sustained yet another bad-looking injury.

My heart sank when I saw this, especially because it didn't look like a minor injury at all and I was worried it was perhaps something to do with his initial injury from 2020. But, more information has come out since, and Gawad appears to have torn his calf.

I don't know much more about the seriousness or extent of the tear, but, I'd like to start off this blog post by wishing Gawad the absolute best of luck with what is hopefully a very speedy recovery.

After a little bit of thought, it seemed obvious that I should definitely still focus an article on him. Since his return from that first injury, Gawad has been on absolute fire. I have no doubt he will bounce back from this injury with the same drive and flame.

So, I will be writing a bit about Karim Abdel Gawad's story including the struggles of his injury, his awesome return, and what the future could hold (especially if he is able to carry on playing the way he has been this season)...

So, first off, who is Karim Abdel Gawad?

Gawad is an Egyptian squash player who has been on the PSA World Tour for over 15 years now. Aged 32, he weighs 72kg and is 173cm tall.

He has a multitude of awesome accolades to his name including 27 titles, 489 matches (with 340 wins), and has also been World No.1 (in 2017).

His composure on court also sets him aside from many other players in the top 10. He is unbelievably calm, even when things aren't going his way or he gets a frustrating decision.

He is always able to focus on the next point and doesn't lose his head.

Gawad is also humble in victory and gracious in defeat, you can tell he has a huge amount of respect for all of his opponents.

For me though, it's his style that makes him such an incredible squash player. He has a wonderful technique, with his swing and movement both being unbelievably fluid.

He is the absolute king of the front of the court in my opinion. Gawad can feather the softest and most accurate drop shots of any player in the world, his touch is unmatched.

Karim is also a master of deception, he has the ability to send players the wrong way at any given moment using holds, flicks, and positioning to show a completely different shot to the one he actually plays.

If you've ever watched him play you'll know exactly what I mean.

I have actually been lucky enough to see Gawad play in person a couple of times in the Edinburgh Open a few years back.

It was amazing because the tournament brings some of the best players in the world (including Paul Coll, Joel Makin, Joelle King, Sarah-Jane Perry, and more) to Scotland, which is only a few hour's drive from my home town of Newcastle.

I remember just walking into the changing rooms, seeing Gawad just sitting there, and being absolutely starstruck!

He looked very relaxed and calm, but, it was just moments before his final in which he proceeded to dismantle Greg Lobban 3-0 in 30 minutes.

So, what is the story of Gawad's injury?

As I mentioned in the intro, Gawad suffered a pretty devastating mystery injury to his heel against Mohamed ElShorbagy in the 2020 Manchester Open final. He lunged for a shot and instantly appeared to be in a lot of pain.

He did still manage to finish the match, but, the injury was so significant that it would go on to keep him out of professional squash for 10 months, 4 of which he would spend in a wheelchair.

(The image below is actually of Gawad's most recent injury against Diego Elias, but, I decided to include it).


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

The injury was a nightmare for a number of reasons by the sounds of things.

Many doctors were unable to figure out the actual root of the problem, and, to make matters worse, travel for the Egyptian was very difficult at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A shorter-term solution that worked temporarily was for Gawad to receive cortisone injections and heel padding to manage the lingering pain, but, doctors still didn't know what the problem actually was.

While he was taking these injections, Karim did manage to get back on court and play some tournaments over the following months. He impressively achieved some good results too, including winning the 2022 Karachi Open, however, he still slipped back outside the top 10.

After this period, Gawad decided that something more long-term was needed if he was going to get back to full health and play his best squash again.

He travelled to see one of the best doctors in Europe, Dr. Markus Walter (from Germany). His diagnosis was that the fat pad that protects the heel bone in Karim's foot was broken, actually no longer existed!

According to Dr. Walter, this was the first time he'd ever seen this injury and it was only something that he had learned about in school. So, it must be a pretty rare issue.

The treatment included more injections to try to encourage the missing tissue to regenerate as well as strict restrictions on Gawad’s movement.

So, for the next four months, Gawad had to travel to and from Germany every two weeks and was pretty much confined to the sofa for the rest of the time.

However, following this long, stressful, frustrating recovery period, Gawad came back to professional squash again in early March this year in the 2023 Black Ball Squash Open.

He secured a strong 3-1 win over France’s Auguste Dussourd and then lost 3-2 in an awesome match to the eventual champion Mohamed ElShorbagy.

It was incredible to see him play again.

Following this first tournament back, Gawad spoke to the PSA about the experience, saying:

“To be honest, I can’t say I was under pressure, because I was out for so long and didn’t expect to be on court again. I was just happy and enjoying my time [at the Black Ball Open].

I’ve missed everything about the tour: seeing the players, having breakfast with them, chilling out after matches – even just stretching! I was missing everything.

So, being on court again was a dream for me, one that I’d been dreaming of for the last 10 months. And that was enough for me. I wasn’t thinking ‘I’m in a tournament’. I was just trying to enjoy the atmosphere of being in Egypt again and playing PSA Tour matches again.”

This just goes to show how much it means to him to be able to play the sport he loves again.

He also went on to comment about his injury, mentioning:

“I can’t say if it’s going to happen again or not, no one knows. I’m just enjoying being on court, no matter whether that’s winning or losing."

I think that about sums him up!


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

Following his return, it has now been around 8 months and Gawad has soared back up the rankings to World No.6.

It was very clear from watching him that he was fully back. He looked in superb shape, his movement was rapid, and his shots were on point every single time, it was like the old Gawad was back and perhaps even better than before!

In those 8 months, he has shown more and more frequently that he is capable of beating other top 10 players again and again, reaching the later stages of major events and overcoming top players such as Mohamed ElShorbagy, Marwan ElShorbagy, Miguel Rodriguez, and more.

Most recently, and most impressively, Gawad beat Joel Makin 3-1 in the Grasshopper Cup final to take that title, and, beat Mostafa Asal 3-0 in the Malaysia Squash Cup 2023 final to take that title too.

It really seemed like he was well and truly back until this calf tear yesterday.

After some quick Googling, it seems as though a calf tear generally takes one to two months to recover from, however, since nobody is sure about the extent of the injury, it could be very bad or not too serious, which would undoubtedly have a large impact on Gawad's recovery time.

The risk of re-injury is also high.

This makes me really feel for Gawad as he already went through so much pain and frustration with his heel injury, it must feel like a large setback to get yet another injury.

We're now almost half way through the season and there is a short break from tournaments on the PSA World Tour over the Christmas period. Hopefully, this gives Gawad some time to recover and not miss many major events.

The main hope, though, is that this injury doesn't have too much of an impact on him mentally. It has the potential to take a huge toll on his motivation.

But, seeing just how much Gawad loves the sport and how happy it makes him to be able to play, I believe he is strong enough to bounce back from this calf injury just like he bounced back from the heel injury.

And, it may even make him stronger in the process.

So, to finish off, what does the future hold for Gawad if he does manage to return to full health yet again?

Well, since I always make a point to watch his matches whenever he plays, I feel like I have a good understanding of his potential, especially against those other top five players (such as Diego Elias, Ali Farag, Mostafa Asal, Paul Coll, and Mohamed ElShorbagy).

But, I may also be a bit biased since I like Gawad so much...

Anyway, I think he is capable of reaching World No.1 again, but, it will take a heck of a lot of work.

The two players that I believe stand in his way the most are Ali Farag and Diego Elias. He seemed to struggle against them a lot more than others when he played them in recent events.

Ali Farag especially is absolutely on fire at the moment and it seems like not many players can beat him.

But, at full strength, I think Gawad's accuracy and consistency give him the potential to overcome these top guys.

I certainly see Gawad winning some platinum events in the second half of the season (in the hopes that his recovery period isn't too long). 

He will hopefully have his chance in the Tournament of Champions, the Windy City Open, the El Gouna International, and the British Open.

So, I am again wishing for Karim to have the speediest recovery possible from this calf tear. I'm sure everyone else, like me, hopes to see him back in action next half.

Lastly, if you've never watched him play before, I hope this article has inspired you to give Karim Abdel Gawad a watch. You won't be disappointed!

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 December 5, 2023
Alex Robertson