Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Leaving too early?

The former world No 1 squash champion Karim Darwish talks to Mohamed Abdel-Razek about his sudden retirement and offers a preview of his upcoming challenge

Al-Ahram Weekly

Questions still abound as to why Egypt’s Karim Darwish hung up his racquet at just 33. Though he was no longer No 1, Darwish was still ranked in the top 10.

It was said he must be chronically injured, or no longer had the drive or the hunger needed at the highest levels of the game. But that wasn’t it at all.

“I am standing on a hill where I can see every scene and shot of my squash career passing by,” Darwish said.

With that, Darwish narrated his beginning. He took the first step with squash in Maadi Club at the age of seven, after seeing his big brother Walid playing the sport. The under-10 Cairo championship in 1989 was just the beginning for him as he captured his first title at the age of eight. “From that point squash and studying in parallel were my priority,” Darwish added.

Darwish’s brother and parents played an important role supporting him through a critical phase in any professional athlete’s career. That helped Darwish manage his time between his studies and squash. “I am grateful for all the efforts my parents exerted through my junior career. Without them I couldn’t have done it.”

According to Darwish, Mohamed Eid, Ahmed Mansour and Talha Hussein were the coaches who put their magic touch on him as a junior until he turned professional in 1999.

The world junior championship in Italy 2000 was the big occasion not only for Darwish but for the world of squash. He was seeded No 1 and won all the games en route to clinching the trophy. “At that point, I realised I was capable of achieving more in squash.”

Darwish always believed that a successful squash champion should have a complete personality on and off the court. He looked up to the Scottish legend Peter Nicol who Darwish believed had all the discipline and talent needed to achieve what he dreamt of.

From there, Darwish looked to climb the ladder up to the top ranks of the Professional Squash Association (PSA). In 2001, he participated in the Al-Ahram championship, beating the world seeds No 16, No 8, and No 4. That was enough to push him up from 200 to the top 60 in the PSA ranking.

Marching ahead steadfastly, Darwish was able to reach the top 20 in less than two years after winning the world junior championship. He rolled into the top 10 in March 2003, sailing into the top five a year later. Darwish gave the same effort to his national team, winning two gold and three silver medals in the world team championship.

“I had three main targets when I started my squash career: winning the junior world championship, reaching the world No 1 and winning the senior world championship. Thank God, I was able to nail the first two, capturing a total of 23 titles, but for the world champion, I tried my best, reaching the final once against (Egyptian compatriot) Rami Ashour in 2008, but No 1 didn’t seem to like me.”

Asking Darwish for further turning points in his career, “getting married to Engi Kheirallah in 2007 was my biggest.”

Being a squash professional, Kheirallah had a strong influence on Darwish’s life after they got married. She understood all the sacrifices any squash player has to make, so accordingly she kept on pushing Darwish until he reached the world No 1 in 2009, bringing down the Egyptian legend Amr Shabana, and staying on top for 11 months.

Darwish then dropped in the ranking, gradually staying in the top five until 2012, then down to the top 10 once again, until out of nowhere he decided it was time for the curtain to come down while still playing at the highest level. “Darwish used to push himself all the way, making history, and I hope people don’t forget that. It looks like legends get forgotten these days and people confuse them with others who have done nothing really,” commented PSA former No 11 Hisham Ashour.

Those close to Darwish know he prefers to concentrate on one battle at a time, giving it everything he’s got. So in 2013, Darwish accepted an offer from Wadi Degla, the club which sponsored him from the start, to become its squash director. He then started dividing his time between his professional squash career, his new post, and his family.

“When I first accepted the offer I was looking forward to my career in Wadi Degla after I retire as well as benefiting my country by bringing up new talented generations,” Darwish said.

Darwish had always used to give his squash 100 per cent and wait for the results. Apparently the new job at Wadi Degla kept him from doing that and it threatened to drop him down from the top 10 in the PSA ranking.

Hence, he had to choose: either quit the director job that he planned to build on for his future career, focusing instead on his squash for three more years, or retire at the top level and focus on a long-term career opportunity.

Stepping on his emotions and letting his mind speak, Darwish bravely decided to retire at the age of 33 to focus on bringing up new squash talents to serve his country and the world of squash.    

On Darwish’s decision, his coach Hesham Al-Attar said, “I would simply say that Darwish had a fantastic career and was a great champion. He was very talented but even more important was his determination and most impressive discipline and work ethics. A great professional and role model for the younger generation and a driving force for all who trained around him or competed against him. He was an extremely loyal team player who gave everything when representing his club and gave his blood and soul when playing for Egypt. He will be greatly missed beyond imagination and I wish him luck in his new career and I’m sure he will be very successful serving squash and his country”.

“Karim was one of the most accomplished Egyptian squash players on the PSA World Tour,” said PSA current world seed No 9 Tarek Moamen. “And also one of the most disciplined and dedicated players in the game so I wish him the best of luck in his new coaching career.”

Some might consider this the end, as the name Darwish won’t be mentioned as much from now on. But Darwish is now raising his toddler Omar who he believes will be his successor. So the name Darwish will live on.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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