In the World Open in Hong Kong, the 26-year-old from Cairo was in devastating form this week in the final against David Palmer, brushing the Australian aside 11-6, 11-7, 11-8.
Shabana had might as well been using a fly swatter instead of a squash racquet, so imperious was he in dispatching Palmer, the 2002 champion, in a scant 40 minutes. The win gave Shabana his second world title, the first of which was won two years ago. Thus, he becomes the first player to win the world open title more than once since the great Pakistani Jansher Khan did it a decade ago.
Shabana’s achievement, he also jumps from No 5 seed to No 2 in the world, ensured that Egypt’s historical success story in squash continues. Abdel-Fattah Pasha put Egypt on the squash map, winning the British amateur championship six times from 1931-1937 and the British Open half a dozen times in roughly the same time period.
It was Gamal Awad though who put Egypt’s name up in lights. Awad had won the British amateur championship and the world amateur squash championship, but he is best remembered for playing the longest match in competitive squash history, against then reigning world champion Jahangir Khan of Pakistan in the Chichester Festival in England in 1979. The two played for two hours and 46 minutes. They also played the longest set in that match, the first set lasting one hour and 11 minutes. Khan eventually won the match 3-1 but Awad, who died last year at age 40 after suffering a heart attack,would be chronicled in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Egyptian who simply would not quit.
Much of the recent success of Egyptian squash should go to Ahmed Barada,who at one time was as high in the world as No 3 and probably could have climbed to the very top had he not quit the sport at age 23 after failing to recover from a knife attack by a mystery assailant in 2001.
Barada, who favored a hard-hitting, attacking style, made squash “cool to watch and play and he had the little ones wanting to be like him. Dubbed the “Egyptian Pharaoh, Barada was young, had good looks and was a world class champion.
The trio of factors helped attract fans and sponsors alike. International championships like Al-Ahram, Heliopolis and Maadi were guaranteed to succeed if Barada merely showed up.
When Barada was forced into early retirement, the game’s popularity faded, as did the sponsors and consequently the money. Sponsors in Egyptian squash are needed badly because the federation’s budget is a paltry LE 1.5 million (in contrast, Barada used to receive LE 1 million in sponsorship money alone).
Since there is not enough money to go round, any budding Egyptian squash player must rely on personal resources.The Shabana family, for example,spends around LE 250, 000 a year on Amr and squash sister Salma.
Shabana is lucky; his father works in oil in Kuwait. There are, on the other end, plenty of would-be Egyptian court kings who have yet to get the big break or the big bucks.
The lack of financial resources and the fact Egypt has never had a huge number of squash players, no more than 100 in the best of times, makes the country’s triumphs in the sport all the more remarkable. Just a few years back, four of the best 20 players in the world were Egyptian. One of them was Shabana. Listen to what they say about him: “If I were to sum up Shabana in one word, it would be flair. He doesn’t think on the court, he just has the right instincts. It’s wonderful to watch. said Andrew Shelley, director of the Squash World Open and Team Championships. Canadian Jonathon Power, former world champion: “If I were to choose a future world champion, Shabana would be the one.
“He plays differently, not like us, Rodney Eyles, a former world champion, explained.”He is an alien. Shabana is not really out of this world. He has his faults. He is the first to enter the court, but also seems to be the first to want to leave, his impatience in a sport in which composure is vital costing him several games.
Concerning his tactical approach, Shabana confesses that he has never depended on his physical fitness, “which is, in fact, he says,”lower than many other players. Instead, I rely on my intelligence. I try to exhaust my opponent through the duration of the game by sending the ball to the far corners of the court — to sap his energy. And once I have a chance to finish the ball, I never hesitate. I always adopt the offensive approach to put my contender constantly under pressure. This is the only way I know how to play, my only method. Obviously, it works.