Saturday, September 13, 2014
The Future's Present - Ramy Ashour And The Front Of The Court
Years back I found the Egyptian Squash invasion, well an invasion. I didn't like it. It wasn't what I was used to. They were brash, irreverent, and seemed to come at you from every angle on the way creating even angles never before seen. I found them disconcerting they threatened the iconic British and Australian way of life, they seemed to stomp on the Pakistan traditions of the Khans. Who were these squash Huns? Ten years later from the ashes of Barada and not so far removed from Shabana, the phoenix has risen in all its glory really ushering in not only a new age, but ushering in the very survival of squash. As we see the zenith of Australian and British squash (by Dave Pearson's own admission there's no one on the British horizon of squash) the Egyptians are not only the future but they are the future's present. I watched the El Gouna Open tournament this year as closely as I've watched any tournament. I watched this because this was an Egyptian showcase of the best squash talent on the planet. In the end I was treated to an amazing semifinal match between Mohamed ElShorbagy and Greg Gaultier 113 minutes of amazing squash. I watched these two battle it out a few months back in the semis of this year’s tournament of champion, you walked away from that Gaultier victory realizing only a matter of time, the time is now, not as many predicted a year or two years away. I chastised Gaultier in that match for giving too much credit to his defeated foe. But he must have seen something happening that I certainly didn't. But now Mohamed Elshorbagy. The other fellow on the court for the El Gouna final with Ramy Ashour. I watched a few of the Ashour matches and realized (again) this squash player is perhaps the best player in the history of the game. I saw Jahnsher many times, he is undoubtedly the greatest, but what made Jahnsher great, one thing was his attacking the front court. They used to say in the first game he attacked the front giving you the opportunity to return it and then as the match went on he tightened the front court like tightening a screw until he eventually broke the likes of Rodney Martin, Chris Ditmar and his own Jahangir Khan. And now there is Ramy, the "Annihilator" he will annihilate you with his front court game. Watch the Simon Rosner quarter final match at El Gouna, the front court attack is simply devastating, annihilating, ushering a very talented player into a void a nothingness of racket and player unable to cover the ball up front. He makes a potentially top 5 player look like a club player in the front court. And Ashour isn't tightening any screws, he's going for the jugular. I saw him first do this a few months back against one of my favorite players Cameron Pilley. It seemed Ashour attacked more to the front, he broke a very game Pilley early on. Ashour seemed different, he changed, and his game was nothing like I've seen except in Jahnsher. I love British squash, Nick Matthew, James Wilstrop, Peter Barker, and Daryl Selby will be no more in a few years. None will replace these absolute golden boys of squash. I am sad, truly saddened by this until I realize we have something entirely new. We have the Egyptians, Ashour, Shorbagy, Mosaad, Momen and many others coming up in the ranks. They are exciting in a different way. I feel a bit guilty in this because I feel like I'm betraying the ultimate squash in Matthew and Wilstrop. these are my heroes, these are the players who have carried the torch of traditional squash, the torch once held by Nicol, Power, Palmer, Ditmar, Robertson, the Martins, and even further back in Hunt and Barrington -- those players who combined attrition squash with beautiful shot making -- a deadly combination. But someone, anyone had to come out of the Pakistani ashes of squash, come out of that tradition steeped in brilliance, temperament and creativity.