Egypt’s other main man Mohamed ... Elshorbagy dominating world squash

Egypt’s other main man Mohamed ... Elshorbagy dominating world squash
Mohamed Elshorbagy is the world No. 1 and leader of an ever-growing pack of Egyptian squash stars dominating the sport. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2018

Egypt’s other main man Mohamed ... Elshorbagy dominating world squash

Egypt’s other main man Mohamed ... Elshorbagy dominating world squash

LONDON: Mohamed Elshorbagy is the world No. 1 and leader of an ever-growing pack of Egyptian squash stars dominating the sport.
Mohamed stands in front of an adoring crowd, drinking in the adulation of the Egyptian fans. The journey to the top has been a long and challenging one, punctuated by dogged determination. In his hands is yet another individual accolade, one that crowns his most successful year to date and cements his position at the pinnacle of his sport, and career.
This may read as a premonition of any possible Mohamed Salah Ballon d’Or coronation, but it is the reality of Egypt’s other sporting hero called Mohamed.
Mohamed Elshorbagy is the world’s leading squash player and in Dubai he underlined that status with an imperious victory at the season-ending PSA World Series Finals.
The first love of Egyptians may be football but the profile of squash continues to grow and it is easy to see why. In both the men’s and women’s finals in Dubai, it was Egypt vs Egypt. Success is breeding success, and Elshorbagy is at the heart of it.
“It is great to see the sport getting more popular,” he told Arab News.
“People go crazy on social media when they see Egyptians doing well at these events and it means a lot to all of us. Tonight felt like a home crowd as there were a lot of Egyptians here. This is very special. We are fortunate that we have had players to look up to and now we hope to do the same to the next generation.”
For 27-year-old Elshorbagy that person was compatriot Amr Shabana, who dominated squash in the mid-2000s. This summer, Elshorbagy will surpass Shabana’s Egyptian record of 33 months at world No. 1 and now his sights are set on the only two players to have occupied the top spot for longer, Australian Geoff Hunt (59) and Pakistani great Jahangir Khan (72).
“I have many goals I want to achieve and yes, staying at world No. 1 for as long as possible is one of them,” Elshorbagy said.
“I always look ahead. This final is already in the past for me. I am already focused on the next one.
“If you put each tournament as the main goal you stop there. It is just a step toward achieving the ultimate goal of greatness. There is no way I can relax. I just spoke to my coach and the first thing I told him is that I need to work on several things for next season. The first thing on my mind is not to celebrate but to focus on what is next.
“The person you challenge is not these people on a records list but yourself — I wake up wanting to be better than the version of myself yesterday.”
This rapacious desire for self-improvement is an attribute that is common in great sportsmen and women and Ali Farag, the man Elshorbagy beat in the final in Dubai, knows it only too well. The Egyptian pair have developed an enthralling rivalry, but time and again Elshorbagy has shown an ability to dig deep. In Dubai, he lost a gruelling first game — demonstrating great resilience to turn the final around.
“They say there are people who are easy to play and hard to beat, while there are others who are hard to play and easy to play,” Farag told Arab News.
“Mohamed is hard to play, hard to beat. When you feel like you’ve got him in a corner, he keeps fighting and fighting and it is so difficult to break him down.
“He proves day in and day out that he is the best player in the world. The way that he fights. I have so much respect for him and I am always learning from him.”
Elshorbagy has become an icon of his sport but in his homeland, his profile remains significantly lower than the namesake who had a World Cup to forget as the Pharaohs lost all three of their Group A matches with Salah clearly not match-fit, but still scoring the side’s only goals.
The two Mos met for the first time at squash’s World Finals two years ago and have since developed a friendship. But could Elshorbagy’s sport ever reach the heights of football in Egypt?
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the stage where more people know Mohamed Elshorbagy than Mohamed Salah,” Farag said.
“What Mohamed Elshorbagy is achieving right now can be written in books — it is incredible. But the fame and profile of football in Egypt will never be matched.
“We are on the right track for sure; the base is getting wider and wider in the juniors. A lot more people are getting into squash because they know this is a passport toward global achievement and recognition. I hope we can keep this momentum going for many years.”
That sentiment was echoed by beaten women’s finalist Raneem El-Welily, who was in Russia with her conqueror in Dubai, champion Nour El-Sherbini, to support Salah and Co.
“Squash is growing but it will never compare to football,” El-Welily explained. “Football is number one and nothing is below football for maybe 10 places — then No. 11 is squash. But we will take that. Egypt (did well to get to) the World Cup and Egyptians are on top of the world in squash at the moment. In both sports we are very proud of this success.”
Elshorbagy and his compatriots’ domination of squash shows no signs of ending but the one thing missing from this golden age is Olympic success. Squash’s continued omission from the Games — the sport has never featured — has been a source of angst for many years. This October, however, it will appear at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires; there is hope that this could be a precursor to inclusion at Tokyo 2024.
“I truly hope that squash will be there in 2024,” Elshorbagy said.
“I really hope that one day I can represent Egypt at the Olympics. It is a great dream for any athlete to win a gold medal. I think squash is in a great place. We have a great tour, great players and I think that the Olympics should want us there.”
For now, Mohamed Salah reigns supreme as the Egyptian King. But if Elshorbagy were to one day add Olympic gold to his sustained success, he may be “the other Mo” no more.