Egypt's Ramy Ashour, seen here during a coaching clinic in KL last year, will be defending his British Open squash title starting on Monday in Hull, England.
LONDON (AFP): Ramy Ashour is looking to put an injury-plagued year behind him and become the first Egyptian in 50 years to defend the British Open title in Hull starting on Monday.
The past year has been an uphill battle for the charismatic 26-year-old from Cairo who relinquished his World Open title six months ago because of the latest of many injuries.
But Ashour credited his “genius” fitness coach Paul Sciberras and Thierry Lincou, the retired former world number one from France, with getting him back on track.
“I was kind of lost when I got injured again and wanted to find a solution once and for all,” said Ashour, whose successes at the World Series Finals in March and the El Gouna Open in April have suggested he is back in form.
“I believe they are the ones who made the difference in my movement and my physicality. I have to thank them both.”
As a result Ashour may now be the unofficial favourite for the world’s oldest squash title, even though his three-month absence from competition has caused him to slip to number three in the seeds.
“It’s such an honour to be associated with such a respectful, down to earth, humble legend like Thierry, and I am very grateful for his time, effort and passion,” Ashour said.
“He spoke to his genius professor, Paul Sciberras, and for the first time I have someone who helps my body and my fitness in a deliberate, precise, academic way.”
This may help Ashour to parade the skills which extended a magnificent unbeaten run to 49 matches last year.
However another Frenchman, Gregory Gaultier, could make life difficult.
Already the only player from France ever to have won the British Open, Gaultier overcame Ashour in the Windy City Open final in Chicago in March, and should face him again in Saturday’s semi-finals.
That triumph helped return Gaultier to world number one, but the man from Aix-en-Provence may be wary of a quarter-final with Amr Shabana, the four-time former world champion from Egypt who remains not far from his best at the age of 35 years.
The seedings say that the other semi-final should be between the favourite Nick Matthew, who succeeded Ashour as world champion, and another Egyptian, Mohammed El Shorbagy, whose rise to a career-high number three hints at a readiness for a big breakthrough at 23 years.
Matthew is the only Englishman to have won the British Open three times, and if he wins a fourth he will be only three months short of becoming the oldest man to win in the professional era, at 33 years and ten months.
But if Ashour wins, there will be rejoicing that a very special talent is not yet finished.
“In my eyes Ramy is a true ambassador of our sport all over the world,” says Lincou.
“A beautiful personality allied to a magical squash, unique and scintillating – squash needs him.”
The men’s competition starts on Monday while the women’s event – which could produce a final between Nicol David, the world number one from Malaysia, and Laura Massaro, the world and British Open champion from England – begins on Tuesday.