Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

End of a majestic symphony

Egypt’s former world No 1 squash player Amr Shabana hangs up his racket. Mohamed Abdel-Razek spans the career of the player they called the maestro

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, the squash world was sadly informed that there will be no more Amr Shabana brilliance on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) world tour. After 20 years of tip-top squash in a career full of legendary art, Shabana’s news was difficult to take, from players to enthusiastic fans, even though it was expected.

It’s never easy to witness the departure of a legendary athlete from the professional arena. There is an elite club of sportsmen and women which takes the sport to another level with out-of-this-world performances.

Many athletes are given the superstar tag rather loosely, but Shabana is a bona fide legend, according to the facts and figures. If you’re not into squash and have not heard of Shabana, he is the sport’s Lionel Messi in football, Michael Schumacher in Formula One and Roger Federer in tennis. Shabana captured four world champions out of a total of 33 PSA world titles since he turned pro in 1995, and topped the world rankings for a total of 33 consecutive months -- the fifth longest reign in history. All this made Shabana one of the best squash players in history and the best Egyptian squash player of all time. “To many people Shabana is the legend, the maestro, the prince of Egypt, but to us squash players, he is more than that,” said Tarek Moamen, PSA current world No 9.

Knowing that they won’t get the chance any more to be entertained with the kind of art Shabana used to produce with his unique style inside the court is a big loss for fans and even opposing players. Until now, no one has a clue about Shabana’s exquisite wrist shots, how he twists his wrist outwards to suddenly burry the rubber ball into the neck.

 “I had the pleasure of touring the world competing with Shabana. He made it look very easy on the court, but the players knew how hard it was. Squash will miss the maestro,” said Hisham Ashour, former PSA world No 10.

Top professional players around the world shared their feelings about Shabana’s retirement. Egypt’s Rami Ashour, a three-time world champion and current world No 5, said that even though Shabana retired “his squash will last forever”. World No 3, Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, said Shabana was one of the few that inspired him, and that he was the best squash player of all time.

Consistency and professionalism was the key to Shabana’s success throughout his career, competing in more than 180 tournaments and over 500 matches. He tried his best to remain at the top, managing to stay within the top 10 for 140 consecutive months. He retired while ranked world No 10, the same seeding as his countryman Karim Darwish who retired at the beginning of 2015.

“He is someone who has done so much for his country and I believe he made himself the best ever Egyptian squash player,” Egypt’s Mohamed Al-Shorbagi, current PSA world No 1, said. “We will never, ever have someone like him again.”

It was not only the great talent or the sum of titles Shabana managed to capture that made masses of people admire him the world over. There was also his modesty and humanity. Advising children for hours on end, something an amateur wouldn’t do, brought forth his humility.

“After spending all these years as a competitive professional athlete in the beautiful sport of squash, I have decided that this is the perfect time for me to step down, relinquish my spot in the top 10 and retire from the PSA,” Shabana said in announcing his retirement.

Shabana thanked his squash fans all over the world for supporting him throughout the past years. He also thanked all the players he competed with. He did not forget his family and wife whom according to Shabana, gave him “unconditional love and support all the way”, especially during the tough times.

Shabana realised every dream a squash player could have, but for him that wasn’t enough. He played until the relatively old age of 36, still able to win and entertain.

In an exclusive interview with this reporter last year, Shabana told Al-Ahram Weekly that he would keep playing for another three years. At that time, at age 35, he was the world’s No 4.

“Every match I play is a bonus, so I will keep pushing my body to its limit until I feel the curve is going down. At that point, the bell will ring.”
Apparently, the bell went off a bit too early. But that doesn’t mean Shabana will be out of business. He opened a squash academy in Canada a year ago and is expected to give it 100 per cent of his time in the years ahead, trying to fill the gap he left with a new talented generation. However, it will be very difficult for another Amr Shabana to come along, at least in the near future.

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