Shabana is back to defend his title

Article by Kristi Maroc

Squash champion Amr Shabana, arguably one of the greatest players of all time, is back in the United States and ready to defend his U.S. Open title this week in Philadelphia.

The Egyptian is a four-time PSA World Champion – the absolute pinnacle of squash achievement – and also reigned as world #1 for a 33 month unbroken stint between 2006 and 2009.  That run secured his position among the five longest-standing world number ones of all time – squash legends Jahsher Khan and Jahangir Khan from Pakistan, England’s Peter Nicol and Australian Geoff Hunt.

“Being world number one was actually the easiest period I spent on the world tour since I joined in 1995.  I cherish the achievement just as much as winning the World Open title, as I proved myself as the best player on tour for 3 years straight without dropping pace,” says Amr.

In the history of the game there are also only three other players who have ever been World Champion four times or more – Jansher Khan, Jahangir Khan and Geoff Hunt.  To win the World Tour once is a huge feat – to win it more than once is an exceptional, and almost unheard of, accomplishment.

“Being a four times World Champion is a reality that I never dreamed of achieving, but I realize it is also a huge responsibility that I have to take care of and maintain whether inside or outside the squash court,” says Amr.

Amr has a host of other prestigious titles to his name – the Hong Kong Open, Malaysian Open, Tournament of Champions, Mexico Open, Canadian Classic, Saudi International Open, Qatar Classic, and Kuwait Open to name a few.  When asked which tournament is his favorite, he laughs.

“My favorite tournaments are the ones I’ve won!”

Amr was the champion of the U.S. Open last year, and also won the title in 2009.  In last year’s final, he beat world #2 Nick Matthew to win the title.

“The experience was really good for me last year.  Philly is a great city and it felt great winning the event.  At that time in my career I was struggling with injuries and lack of form, so to have it all happen in a big one like the U.S. Open was awesome,” he says.

“The atmosphere was great, the venue gets better each time, and the crowd really gets behind the players.  Without a great atmosphere you don’t really have a tournament.”

Amr says he has been training hard, ready to defend his U.S. Open title once again this year.

“Winning in the USA is awesome.  To have achieved so much here is a blessing that I cherish, and winning the U.S. Open as well as the Tournament of Champions here twice each are great memories for me.

“I like playing in the U.S. as I always feel the excitement of the people, whether off or on court.  I get nothing but love from people around here, so it’s easy to perform my best.”

Amr bases himself between the USA and his home country of Egypt, and also often spends time in Canada.

“People might think it’s strange, but we squash players are used to traveling around the world many times over each year…so having a few places that I could call a first, second and third home comes very naturally to me,” he says.

Many professional players say that Amr is one of the nicest, most genuine and honest players on tour.  When asked about his wholesome reputation, Amr laughs:

“I think they should watch what they say, as right now I will not hesitate to knock them out of a tournament!

“Actually I really appreciate the respect I get from my peers – in my opinion squash players are the greatest athletes on this earth, period.”

As one of the oldest players on tour, Amr still going strong despite some physical setbacks in recent years.  In January this year, he won the World Series Final, beating world #1 James Willstrop in the semifinal, and world #3 Greg Gaultier in the final – proving he’s not yet anywhere near being a fading contender.

“The past three years for me have been the hardest – trying to work myself out of knee, wrist and back injuries.  It has taught me everything I need to know about my body and my squash game,” he says.

“I feel if I put in a decent amount of physio and training, hopefully I can extend my career a few more matches.”

Amr has become a legend in the squash world, both through his exceptional playing record as well as his sincerity, friendliness and integrity.  He is admired by many of his fellow players, particularly the younger players, as well as fans worldwide.

“As one of the older players on tour, I’d say to the young players coming up: train hard, never look back, trust at the end of the day only those closest to you, and remember that you’re not done until you yourself decide.”