Interview | Egypt’s squash power couple eyeing more success in 2018
The married couple, who were named KingFut’s Extra Time Athletes of the Year, garnered wide attention when they won the US Open squash titles in October 2017 to become the first husband and wife in sporting history to win the same major sports title on the same day. A memorable night and a fairy tale victory.
Fast forward to January 2018, the ambitious couple, who already made history, are showing no signs of slowing down. World No.3 Farag and World No.8 El Tayeb are looking forward for even more success and bigger goals in 2018.
The squash power couple spoke to KingFut’s Salma Abdallah about their most memorable career moments, their New Year’s resolutions and even their post-retirement plans. They also offered a sneak peek into their personal lives, sharing with us what it’s like to be married to a fellow sporting champion.
Farag’s and El-Tayeb’s daily routines entail a morning training session, in which each of them go to practice in a different place. They then go back home, have lunch together and take a nap before heading for their night training session.
In addition, they travel a lot, spending between 100 and 150 days per year abroad as they participate in international tournaments. They believe that understanding this sporting rollercoaster would have been hard for any other partner, who isn’t in the field.
Although, the young couple got married around a year and a half ago, they are still struggling to find the right balance between training and home life.
What’s it like being married to a fellow champion? Does it make life easier, harder, more complicated?
Nour: It’s easier for us because we understand each other and understand squash well. It’s an asset from my point of view. As I’m married to a fellow squash player, I have someone who can give me squash-related advice. If he’s not into squash, he might try to help me but he wouldn’t really be able to help with squash-specific advice.
Ali: I agree. In addition, the lifestyle of athletes is very hard and different. So it’s hard to be with someone who would understand this lifestyle. But since we both do the same thing, we understand the case. It’s very hard to the get the combination of someone who understands your field and your character well, and Nour combined both, which is a huge asset.
How do you handle household chores with this training routine?
Nour: Ali is very understanding. So he doesn’t complain about the lack of variety of food, for example. He understands that it’s very hard. I’m yet to reach the perfect balance between squash and perfectly taking charge of everything in the house.
Ali: It’s going so well so far. Since we’re in the same field, so I understand how hard it is. And I honestly don’t help around much so I’d be too greedy if I was too demanding. But we’re managing it well so far and our parents help us as well.
Since both of you are squash players, do you find it hard to switch off and focus on non-squash topics?
Ali: Squash is a big part of our lives and we’re not only squash players but squash fans as well. We watch the tournaments even if we’re not taking part in them. We love sports in general. So we talk a lot about sports, but it’s rather because we’re fans.
Our friends come over three or four times a week especially that we’re homebodies and don’t go out a lot. We have a family business that’s run by my older brother so I’m always with him when I have time. So we don’t focus on squash only.
Besides winning the US Open titles on the same night, what were the key moments that stood out in your career?
Nour: This year was the highlight for me in squash, because the US Open was my first major title. Finishing third in the World Championship was a big achievement too.
Ali: When I was 16, I had a string of poor results and I told my older brother that I’ll sell my racquets and quit and he told me that he’ll coach me and that he had faith in me and he’s been my coach since then. This was in 2009, and it was a turning point in my life, because when someone who you look up to, has so much faith in you, you start believing in yourself.
The highlight of this year was winning the team’s World Championship with Egypt in November. It was a big moment for me. Wearing Egypt’s jersey and helping my country win was very big for me.
Already in top 10, what are your ambitions? Also, do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Nour: No new year’s resolutions. Everyday I have the same resolution of becoming the best squash player in the world. This is what I have in my mind when I’m training and in order to do that I need to train harder and win more titles. If I were to put it into numbers, I’d say that by the end of this year, I want to be in the world’s top 3.
Ali: The ultimate goal of any squash player is to become the world’s No.1. And we have a further goal of winning the World Championship together on the same day. We were in the semi-final this year and we hope next year we get closer.
Who are your role models on and off the field?
Nour: I don’t really have a role model. I don’t have a person that I look up to but I learn something from everyone.
Ali: Roger Federer. I like the classy characters, who are good at what they do without being loud and for me Roger Federer is someone who I look up to since I was young. Off the field, I look up to my older brother Wael.
Right now, we have six Egyptians in the top 10 of the men’s rankings and four in the women’s. In your opinion, what is the reason behind Egypt dominating the sport over the past years?
Ali: It started with the Ahram Open in the late 1990s when Ahmed Barada was playing. It got us all attracted and we felt we want to be like him one day, playing on such a big stage. So we started having more world champions, like Amr Shabana, Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish, Mohamed ElShorbagy and others and we started having a community of squash that passes along generations.
So, when we’re young, Nour used to play with Raneem El Welily [current World No.2] who’d give her advice. So you get someone to look up to, and teach you which makes it easier for you. On the other hand, you believe that you can do it because you see other people who already made it.
Geographically, since we all live in Cairo and Alexandria, the distances are short but in the US for example everyone live in a different state, so they don’t have this community. Here, we train together so we lift each other up.
With people and media always focusing on football with not enough attention given to other sports, how did it feel that squash was under the spotlight in Egypt for a few days after you won the US Open?
Nour: It was a surprise. All the publicity and media attention were very exciting. I’d say Ramy Ashour and Nour ElSherbini are the ones who started attracting the media’s attention to squash. They’re unbelievable squash players. It’s nice that squash is starting to get publicity.
Right now, you’re full-time squash players, but Ali graduated from Harvard with a degree in mechanical engineering and Nour studied economics at the American University in Cairo, do you ever think of working in these fields after retirement?
Nour: Not sure what I’ll be doing after retirement but I’d like to involve squash and economics in a way, maybe a managerial position in squash, something where I’d use my background knowledge from education to help squash in Egypt or women’s squash for example.
Ali: We have a family business and my brother is running it and I try to attend the meetings whenever I’m free, and I’ll join him after retiring. This is my ultimate dream.
KingFut would like to thank Nour and Ali for their time and wishes them the best in their future endeavours.
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