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In the Hong Kong Open 18-year-old Ramy Ashour is starting  to fulfil his precocious talent beyond the expectation of most obververs with wins over - John White, Thierry Lincou and David Palmer.

In the summer of 2006 he made squash history by becoming the first male player to win the World Junior Championship twice. In an article for The Squash Player reproduced here Ben Garner spoke to him on the  eve of his historic achievement of  his life in Egypt and his future. 

Text: Cairo is the current capital of men’s squash, being home to world champion Amr Shabana and the world’s leading junior, Ramy Ashour. Ramy is only 18, but the 2004 and 2006 world junior champion and 2006 British Junior Open champion has already had an astonishing impact on the senior game, rising to number 20 in the PSA rankings after just one full season on the Tour. Ramy’s fearless, attacking style combined with a charismatic personality make him an exceptionally exciting prospect.

When I asked him – on the eve of his victory in the World Junior Championship in New Zealand – to explain the amazing success of Egyptian squash, which also boasts the women’s world junior champion, Ramy confirmed that being born and raised in Cairo had massively contributed to his development.

“Most important is the genetic factor. It does seem that as an Egyptian you have a good chance of being blessed with talent,” explained Ramy. “Squash is also now the second most popular sport in Egypt (behind football), and many juniors are inspired to play having seen the success of people like Barada and now Shabana.”

Ramy began playing at the age of six, having been jealous of watching his elder brother Hisham (current world no.35) play. Originally coached by his father, Ramy showed a natural aptitude for the game. Encouraged by early coaches who said he could go far, from the age of ten Ramy began to take his training seriously. How right those coaches were. In a remarkable junior career, Ramy dominated the British Junior Open at every age group, but his proudest moment came in 2004, when as a 16-year-old he won the World Junior Championship in Pakistan.

Ever since he won the first professional event he played in, the Athens Open in November 2004, Ramy has had an impact on the senior game wherever he has played. His shot-making, remarkable speed and obvious enjoyment of the game have made him one of those rare individuals that even the other players on the Tour take time out to watch. Big name scalps have been quick to come, an exceptional haul being his successive defeats of Olli Tuominen, Shahir Razik and Ong Beng Hee on his way to the final of this year’s Dayton Open.

Ramy’s progress certainly seems to have been helped by his being based in Cairo, where he receives top-class support and exposure to the best players in the world.

“There’s a fantastic set-up here, with federation training at Cairo Stadium, where I get to work with national coach Amir Wagih and a fitness coach, and train every day with people like Shabana, Darwish and Abbas,” explained Ramy. “The President, Hosni Mubarak, also takes good care of the players, which means a lot.”

However much training he does with such elite players, there is one player Ramy will always struggle to beat: elder brother Hisham, who like Ramy lives at his parents’ house.

“I can go on court against anyone in the world and play well if not beat him. But not against my brother. He reads my game so well, and there’s too much going on in my head. He’s the only person I can’t play to my potential against,” said Ramy.

Off court Ramy is a very relaxed and happy character, and along with Hisham he commands one of the biggest smiles and loudest laughs on the tour. Ramy also appears calm on court, playing his natural game at all stages of a match.

“Before a match I remain calm by singing and listening to music. However, I was more nervous for the World Junior Championship this month than any event before, because of the pressure, expectation and media interest,” said Ramy. “During a match, at crucial points everyone gets nervous, but I try to make sure I’m less nervous than my opponent; when I look into his eyes I want to be calmer.”

Ramy appears to have a healthy balance of modesty and respect for other players on the one hand and the self-confidence required to reach the pinnacle of the game on the other. This was illustrated when I asked him who his hero was.

“I like Shabana and Power, who we miss already on the Tour. However, I want to be myself, play in my own style and be much better than anyone in particular,” he replied.

In the shorter term, Ramy is looking forward to the World Open, which will be held in his home town this September, and aims to be in the world’s top ten by the middle of next year.

“In order to do that, I need to work on my fitness and get more serious about that. I also need to improve my footwork,” he admitted.

To reach the very pinnacle of the game, the 18-year-old realises he will have to make many sacrifices, and is willing to do just that.

“I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment, as I am concentrating purely on my squash and it can be a real distraction. The girls in Egypt are not as open minded as foreign girls and don’t understand that you have to train and spend a lot of time away from home; they get bored and think it’s because you don’t like them any more,” he explained.

As a Muslim Ramy prays five times a day, and must fast during the month of Ramadan. However, even this is compromised if it interferes with his squash.

“Fasting during Ramadan is the toughest thing in life. Nowadays I will not fast during a tournament as I would have no energy and couldn’t play,” he said.

Despite his determination to dominate the world of squash, Ramy has a variety of ways of taking his mind off the game when needed. Having turned 18, he is now able to drive around Cairo, a city he describes as never sleeping, where people are always on the streets. At weekends Ramy will often drive with friends to a place near the Suez canal where he jet-skis or rents a boat and generally chills out. Ramy clearly loves Cairo, where he was born and raised.

“I’m very proud of my city,” explained Ramy, “I’m happy there and don’t want to go anywhere else. I want any benefits from my success to go to my home town. I want to do it for Egypt.”

As many Egyptian players do when they first turn professional, Ramy still takes his education seriously. He is studying Linguistics at the Arab Academy and is halfway through a four-year course. Having had a serious knee injury, which required him to wear a leg brace, in 2002, Ramy is well aware of the precarious nature of a squash career – hence his decision to remain in education. However, studying does not interfere too much with his training.

“The professors appreciate my squash needs and aren’t aggressive about deadlines for my studies. I have flexible hours and the professors often work with me outside of usual lecture times, which enables me to train morning and evening.”

With his extraordinary talent, nurtured in the current hot-bed of world squash, and his mature and balanced outlook, Ramy Ashour is certain to have a huge impact on the game of squash.

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