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A ‘decent and fair’ world champion

In a Zoom meeting with his fans, Egypt’s Tarek Momen, the world’s squash champion, talks about Netflix addiction,his toughest opponent and a firstborn coming soon

Abeer Anwar , Tuesday 4 Aug 2020
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Tarek Momen, Egypt’s star squash player who is ranked fourth in the world, has had an impressive recent run. Momen, 32, defeated New Zealand’s Paul Coll in Doha in November last year in straight games. He also played a key part in the Egyptian men’s team when they captured the World Men’s Team Championship in Washington DC in December.

In January, Momen, who is the current world champion, claimed a semi-final victory in Grand Central Station over then world No 1 Ali Farag before he lost a tight four-game final to Mohamed Al-Shorbagi at the Tournament of Champions. All three are Egyptians.

In Toronto he beat Coll again, this time at the Troilus Gold Canada Cup.

In North America, Momen suffered defeat in the semi-final of the Windy City Open to eventual champion Farag before flying to London for the Canary Wharf Classic where he narrowly missed out to Al-Shorbagi once again, this time in the semi-final.

Now Momen is looking back on a season that provided him with the greatest moments of his professional career. Momen also said he will be doing his best to return to shape after a long time in quarantine because of the coronavirus. “It was a good time to calm down and relax,” Momen said in a virtual meet and greet with his supporters. “I had set a special schedule for myself where I practised three days and took one day off. I felt like I wanted to do something useful so I had one session a day either cycling or weightlifting or running around the house.”

But after a month, Momen felt demotivated; nothing new was happening due to Covid-19 which halted sports around the world. He became addicted to Netflix, watching it up to 16 hours a day. “But I said enough and I found myself a new routine and I was really excited to be back on track especially when I was allowed back on court again and I touched the ball. I am really optimistic that within a few months we will be able to play again. Of course, we will miss the spectators cheering but I am sure everything will be back within a year.

“The main target for me has got to be to retain my world title. I must make sure that my season is planned around that and that I do everything I can to make the strongest possible defence of my title which I can produce.

“After that I am very motivated to improve my ranking. Having been up at No 3 and dropped to four, my aim is to reclaim spot three and then start doing everything I can to close the gap on Mohamed and Ali, and to do that I must be more consistent.”

For Momen, Egyptian compatriot Kareem Abdel-Gawad is difficult to play against “but I enjoy playing against him the best as we are always attacking and this is very challenging and funny at the same time. I also enjoy playing against Abul-Ghar,” referring to Egypt’s Mohamed Abul-Ghar who reached a career-high ranking of world No 7 in June 2019.

Like most champions, Momen hates to lose but when he does he starts analysing the reasons for the loss. “I hate being unfairly judged. It really bothers me.”

In order to play well, Momen watches his opponents’ matches closely and studies their technique “as this gives me an edge”.

As to why Egyptians are on top of the men’s and women’s world standings in squash, Momen said Egypt has “a good base of well-trained players and this is attributed to 25 years of hard work.

“It all started with Ahmed Barada when he was able to reach second in the world at a time when most Egyptian athletes were not internationally successful. This attracted the attention of a great number of parents who were eager to push their kids to train in squash after Barada and it caught up since then and went on. We built strong generations and they are getting stronger by time.”

Momen is longing to capture two titles that have eluded him: the Qatar Classic and the British Open. “The British Open is one of the oldest championships and I would like to win it.”

He said his best championships were those played by the Pyramids, a site he calls iconic.

On advice to junior players: “You have to have self-belief and if you don’t, you have to work hard on this. I was told since I was young that I will be a world champion and it happened. Self-belief is the key to your success not only in sports but in life in general.”

Momen recounted the time he met the great Pakistani squash player Jansher Khan when he came to Egypt for an exhibition match. He said he had him sign his training jersey. “For a 10-year-old boy, this was a great achievement at the time.”

Asked about which rule he would change in squash, he said that after talking to a number of squash officials and referees, he thought that the three-minute self- injury time should be discontinued or at least moved to the end of the game.

Momen is married to Raneem Al-Welili, who retired two months ago as the world No 1 in squash. The squash pair are expecting their first child on 1 January. “It is exciting since it is Raneem’s birthday as well.”

On retirement, Momen said it would not be coming soon as he still has things he is eager to achieve. “A number of players retired in their late 30s so there is still a way to go and this is very exciting. I am very happy and proud of what I have achieved in my 25-year career. When I retire, I want people to remember not my titles or my achievements but the way I played and how decent and fair I was on and off the court. This is more important.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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