Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
In every squash player’s career, there is adversity to overcome if triumph is to be achieved, and the journey in doing just that is what makes the eventual outcome all the sweeter.
But for Egypt’s World No.15 Omar Mosaad, the loss of his mother and sister in a fatal car crash near El Gouna in 2015 was a double tragedy that has haunted his career to this day, as the ripples of that tragedy have meant that, despite a career high PSA ranking of World No.3 in the year after the unthinkable, the ‘Hammer of Thor’ has never quite achieved all that he might have.
It was in returning to the court to honour the memory of his lost loved ones, that the six foot four gentle giant of squash sought to keep his own torment at bay and indeed produced U.S. Open and World Championship final appearances where Mosaad was only thwarted by the genius of Gregory Gaultier.
Yet when the sniper’s crack of Mosaad’s thunderous forehand had been stilled and the summer break of 2016 arrived, a period of retrospection set in and a delayed angst that would cause him to take a break from the tour and see his ranking fall from top three status to an also-ran position of No.30 enveloped the Egyptian ace.
Loss of form and confidence, a departure from his long-standing coaching team that included brother Mohamed, all contributed to creating a poisoned cocktail that appeared to be fatal for any hopes of Mosaad’s resurgence.
Yet the support of his new wife Nouran and some vital and timely words of encouragement from his father Abouzid, delivered at the nadir of his torment, proved vital in the restoration of purpose, desire and belief to the affable Egyptian.
Now, having reconfigured his game to rise back up the rankings to No.15, Mosaad admits that his dark days have helped him endure the suspension with calmness and he is focusing firmly on the future.
Omar Mosaad in action during the 2015 PSA Men's World Championship in Bellevue
While studying video analysis of his finest hours and the tragic memories they are intertwined with, Omar admits time has indeed healed and also added perspective.
“I have watched a lot of matches and of course I have viewed the games back in 2015 when I made the final of the World Championships and the US Open and back to 2016 when I reached my career high of World No.3,” Mosaad said.
“You watch these matches and think to yourself : ‘What I am doing differently now and what have I got to get back’? But on top of that also realise that it has not just been about squash. In 2015 my mother and sister were killed in a car crash near El Gouna, but my nephew Youssef and niece Tia survived, although Youssef broke both his legs and it was just very tough.
“For me I needed to be there and be strong for them and I needed to be beside my father as it was very tough for him to lose both his wife and daughter but I got back on court and I did it for my mother and my sister.
“So, initially this gave me focus and a goal to help in my own process of coping with the pain and of course I made the World Championship final and the U.S. Open but when the season ended in 2016 it was then that things started to swirl in my mind. When squash had stopped over the summer my mind then started to deal with what had happened the previous year and of course it affected me.
“So then these things start to impact on your squash and if your mind is not focussed and is distracted by other things it has an impact and as your results become disappointing, confidence slips and pretty soon you have gone from World No.3 to No.30.
“I needed to take a break and I was lucky enough that in this time I started to date my wife, Nouran Khalil, and she did a great job in this time to keep me calm again and give me the first push emotionally and mentally to come back.
“This was more important than squash and fitness and it paid off in the U.S. Open 2017 when I reached the semi-final and got back again to the top 20. But you know that if you want things going back to where they should be, it takes time and that you have to understand that you will go through ups and downs and endure all kinds of feelings.
Mosaad celebrates his win over Diego Elias in the quarter-finals of the 2017 U.S. Open in Philadelphia
“Loss, depression, frustration, hurt, they all hit me hard, but you have to focus on getting to the other side and the most important thing is to believe in yourself. But in Qatar in 2018 I had an unbelievably bad loss when I didn’t even score a point in this match and then I decided I must go back to my old team and for that I owe my father in law.
“He was working in Doha, where he was Chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Qatar University, and he had to watch this match and feel my pain, share in it and endure and afterwards we had a very frank and good conversation that changed my mind.
“My dad was honest with me as only a father can be with his son and yes they were some painful words but they needed to be spoken. We had to be honest and from that I went back to my old team and for me it was the best move I could make.”
Mosaad’s return to a coaching team of Islam Hany, fitness coach Hossam Shaddad and Derek Ryan, which soon began to put a spring in the gentle giant’s step.
“At the beginning of 2019, well I sat down with my coaching team and we had a big talk and decided that I must change my tactics and my approach if I was to get back to challenging and competing with the top 10 players,” Mosaad explained.
“This made the difference and my results started to improve, I started to compete again and with a bit of luck things could have been even better because I had several five setters that went against me and with a bit of luck in one or two of these, my ranking would have been a lot higher than it is but as I know that is life.
“Possibly looking back at last year, the one that was really tough to take was the World Championships in Qatar, in November, when I drew Paul Coll in the third round. I lost that one 16-14 in the fifth and if I had won it then you look at what happened with Paul and he went all the way to the final, so you never know.
“I think I saved five match balls and had two of my own and we are talking about a match that lasted nearly 120 minutes and of course it was a painful loss but one that gave me my belief back that I could compete with the top 10 or top five players again.
“There was another one against Mazen Hesham at the U.S. Open and then after Christmas at the ToC in the second round I had a very tight five set loss with [Gregory] Gaultier. But then at the Windy City I got my revenge on Greg in another five-setter and I thought I played pretty well against Ali [Farag] in the third round, while I was also pleased to make a semi-final at Pittsburgh where I lost to Saurav Ghosal.
Mosaad (right) in action against Gregory Gaultier (left) during the 2020 Tournament of Champions in New York;s Grand Central Terminal
“So, I feel like my results had been coming over the last season and things were much more positive for me until I injured my ankle at Canary Wharf against Marwan [ElShorbagy] and then of course the tour was suspended.”
Yet even the ankle injury he sustained in London provided Mosaad with a silver lining when it came to the suspension: “That ankle injury meant three weeks of recovery which meant really I had no chance to miss playing, so the first month I was emotionally okay because I couldn’t be back on court anyway.”
However, the realities of the PSA World Tour’s suspension have hit home as the World No.15 admits: “When the ankle was good it was then that the different emotions started to impact. On top of that I am a professional squash player and just like all the other players on the PSA World Tour, squash is what I do for a living.
“When you have no tournaments, no league matches, no exhibitions, then financially it becomes a challenge especially when this goes on for over four months. Plus you have the emotional and mental impact of not doing something that you love, something that you have done since you were a kid and is a huge part of your life and then you have to deal with all of that and that has not been easy for any of us.
“But again my wife Nouran has been a huge support to me, she is a dentist and she has been very busy but she has been a great support to me and I am truly grateful to her for helping to keep me looking forward.”
When it comes to the resumption of the PSA World Tour, Mosaad is sanguine and refuses to make any bold claims of a return to the top 10, but of one thing there is no doubt, and that is that the ‘Hammer of Thor’ is not quite ready to consign his squash career to the past.
Mosaad said: “What I am hoping to achieve when the tour gets back up is that I am able to build on the promising performances I did produce last season and that I can start to win more big matches, come out on top in more of the five setters, and the only way to do that is to keep playing them.
“I do not want to make claims that I want my place in the top 10 back and that is my target. Instead I will focus on making the improvements on my game that I hope will bring the more positive results and if that process is successful then everything else will take care of itself.”