Photo courtesy of Maelshorbagy Facebook page
Marwan El Shorbagy is one of only four players to win the World Junior Championships, after shooting to fame in 2012 at the under-17 British Junior Open where he won the under-19 event.
El Shorbagy made his World Championship debut when he was just 17 in 2011 and today is in the running for the Gouna International Squash Open Tournament, on until April 14. We chat with El Shorbagy about his training regimen, life between Egypt and the UK and competing with squash champ brother Mohammed El Shorbagy.
How did you prepare for the Gouna International Squash Open Tournament?
It’s one of the seven world series championships so it’s one of the biggest international tournaments, like the four grand slams in tennis. I think my preparations for this tournament are somehow different as we’re at the end of the season so I don’t stress myself with heavy training as my body needs to rest, but I think I am ready for the tournament.
Is squash becoming more popular in Egypt?
It's better than before as squash players get to appear now on TV; I think it is going to be much better in the future.
Who do you expect will win in Gouna?
Well, I hope me or Mohammed. I don’t have a specific name but Grégory Gaultier world No. 1 player plays really well, he won the last three tournaments he took part in.
Who is your toughest opponent?
My brother Mohammed, as our relationship is very special. We are very close to each other since we both moved to live in the UK. We go through ups and downs together and share the same hobbies and goals, such as reaching the world Number 1 spot, yet we compete against each other.
How did you feel when you defeated your brother for the first time in Chicago last month?
It was very difficult for me to do such a thing, Mohammed taught me how to play squash, he was always there for me, so I was thinking at that moment, “How can I defeat my older brother?” Eventually, I had to be tough mentally to focus on my game in the semifinals the following day.
I know I got very emotional that moment when I cried, but it was real, we did not fake it, I didn’t expect to win so I was really surprised, but he was very happy for me. I also can’t deny that I was a little bit happy that I defeated world No. 1 Mohammed El Shorbagy back then.
Despite your strong relationship with your brother, you both have pretty different personalities.
Yeah, Mohammed is very serious and organized, he makes all the necessary arrangements before any tournament. I can’t do it that way, I do not to stress myself out before a game—maybe that’s why I deal with loss easily.
You mentioned before that you hope Mohammed would keep number one spot for as long as he can until you take it from him. What are you doing to be No. 1?
Actually, Grégory Gaultier took the No. 1 spot from him, not me, but Mohammed succeeded at keeping it for 28 months. He broke many records; last year he won six World Series out of seven.
Concerning my plan to be world No. 1, I have to focus now on improving my style, I have to hit the ball much earlier and be faster.
How do you balance your professional and academic career?
Well, my university has been very supportive of me since day one. They appreciate that I am a professional player and that I need enough time to train. That’s why I managed to complete my master’s degree in international management and I am also doing another one in real estate, a field that I enjoy working in, plus it is very popular in Egypt.
How is life in the UK different from Egypt for you as a professional player?
I think every city has its pros and cons. I got used to how life in England is very strict and organized. I wake up every day knowing exactly what I am going to do as I have a fixed schedule for my training. Unfortunately, in Egypt I have to do everything myself as things aren’t that organized. I also prefer staying in England, especially in the middle of the season, because it takes much less time to travel from the UK to any other country and this helps my body get enough rest. I think I’ll need to stay in England till I retire!
On the other hand, I love being in Egypt as I am surrounded by my beloved family and friends, the feeling I miss the most. I love waking up to my mother’s lunch every day.
What’s your relationship with your coaches like?
I share everything with my coaches Hadrian Stiff and Ian Thomas. They can tell if I am going through a personal problem and they understand that well. They appreciate that our life as athletes is very complicated as we crave success all the time and that it requires hard work and thinking.
How do you deal with loss?
When I was younger, I always thought about quitting squash as I didn’t know how to deal with loss, but now things are much more different because I realized that loss is an inevitable part of my journey. I know that life is much bigger than a squash game so not achieving my goals in squash doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. That’s why I was totally fine with my loss in the first round after the Chicago tournament.
How did your family deal with pressures you experienced when you were younger?
My parents played a vital role in my life, they believed in me when I didn’t. They were always telling me that I am going to accomplish more. I know well that all great champions experience those down moments at the very beginning of their career.
I changed a lot when I moved to the UK. I became more responsible as I realized that my family made such a great effort for me, they spent so much money and time on me and my brother.
Who is your role model, in and out of the sports world?
In sports generally, I prefer those athletes who worked really hard and created their talent as Cristiano Ronaldo in football, the American swimmer Michael Phelps and my brother Mohammed.
Outside sports my friends inspire me a lot. I have friends from different social levels; I love those who accept their life as it is, even if it is harsh
How would you spend a normal week without tournaments?
In Egypt, I would spend it in Alexandria with my friends and family by the sea. In England, I love starting my day with coffee as I am fond of coffee and maybe go to a nice place or go for a walk.
What’s your favorite tournament, why?
Windy City Open in Chicago is my favorite where I always perform well. I also love to play in New York City as the courts are in Grand Central Station which is one of the best venues in world. And of course the Gouna tournament where I feel relaxed as I am in my hometown and surrounded by my friends and family.
I am looking forward to playing for the first time in a world series finals at the Dubai Opera in June. I paid a visit there last week to check out the host venue along with some of the city’s most iconic sites and I am very excited to play there.
What is your proudest moment?
I was crowned World Junior Championships twice in Belgium and Qatar. The tournament in Qatar was very special to me as I was defending my title. I didn’t sleep for the two months before the tournament and I faced many obstacles, but in the end I was able to make it.
Also the moment when I defeated Mohammed was very special as we got very emotional. He was very happy for me and I cried; those mixed emotions created a very special moment.
If you weren’t a squash player, what would you be?
I love sports, so anything related to sports.
What are your main goals in 2017?
My main goal is to maintain my level as I am enjoying my game pretty much; I train hard on a daily basis to improve my style.
As a role model, what would you tell your fans?
Be the best version of yourself.