And the Egyptian pride is literally raining on us! Ali Amr Farag, aka ‘Mr. Fantastic’, is a 27 year old Egyptian professional squash player who graduated from Harvard University in 2014, with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. Farag is currently World No.1, World Squash Champion and the best PSA Player. The 27 year old is also married to another champion, Egyptian squash professional and the current Women’s World No.3, Nour El Tayeb. We sat with the champion and the rest is history you’re about to read!
How does it feel being World No.1, the current World Squash Champion, and the best PSA Player?
I can’t express my happiness in words. It’s any player’s dream to be on top of their respective sport; it’s something I’ll always be proud of. Being World No.1 and current World Squash Champion in the same season is an unparalleled feeling. However, as outstanding as being the best PSA Player is, I would like to keep thinking that I’m not completely there yet in order to continue pushing forward and retain my position for a long time.
How do you and your wife Nour El Tayeb juggle being a married couple with responsibilities and world champions at the same time?
Some people think being a married couple who are professionals in the same domain is hard; but in fact, it’s a huge blessing. Our life routine is very different and barely anyone would tolerate it unless they see it from the same perspective. Nour and I really get on and support each other on both the professional and emotional levels. I also look up to her, big time.
What is your daily workout routine?
Basically from Saturdays to Thursdays, I start fitness from 10:00 to 11:30 AM then I eat a light snack. From 12:00 to 1:30 PM, I practice, either solo, with a coach or with another player. After that, I go home, eat lunch, and sleep for an hour. And I usually have a match play four days a week at 7:00 PM with another player; and that’s actually one of the pros of living in Egypt. Here, I have a dozen top and junior players to practice with. Friday is my day off.
Which area do you usually focus on strengthening when you exercise?
Squash is an all round sport, meaning that I can’t only focus on my arms for example because I use them in playing and ignore my lower body or vice versa. I’m very blessed to work with Derek Ryan, the PSA physio and strength & conditioning specialist; as well as my coach in Egypt, Hossam Shaddad. Together, they put on a full program and I’ve honestly never felt stronger.
What’s your dieting plan?
I’m not very strict when it comes to diet. I treat myself to deserts every now and then. However, I always make sure that all the important nutrients are included in my meals. For instance, I usually either eat oats and bananas for breakfast or avocado and toast. For lunch, I have to eat carbs, for example: rice or pasta and vegetables, along with any source of protein (chicken, steak, salmon, etc..). Same for dinner.
Does frequent traveling and jet lag restrain you from keeping a healthy lifestyle sometimes?
Thankfully not anymore, I’m used to it by now since I travel around 12 times a year and I learned to adapt. I no longer struggle as much with the jet lag. But usually, when I’m done with championships, I take a full day off and treat myself to a nice meal, then go back to being healthy.
When did you start training? When did you know you wanted to be a professional?
Since the age of 6, I grew up watching my father play squash as a hobby. In addition to my brother and role model Wael, who’s two years older and was also practicing the sport. Ever since then, my passion for the game became indescribable. I wanted to play all the time when I was younger, to the point that I cried whenever it was time to go home. However, because my family comes from an academic background, I did not think my passion will reach a professional career until I went to Harvard and continued playing there too, alongside my education. Things basically took off from there.
Is squash more of a mental or a physical game?
Honestly, any sport is like that. Although squash is extremely physical and all, it’s still definitely a mental game. According to Jahangir Khan, former World No.1, squash is 80% mental and 20% physical. Meaning that if you don’t have the mental toughness of a champion, you’ll hardly ever get there, no matter how fit you are.
In your interview with Squash-skills you highlighted the “need to use your physical attributes effectively and negate your opponent’s strengths”; can you elaborate on what that means?
This is something I learned from former World No.1 and three times World Champion Nick Matthew. He said that each one should focus on their strength points for them to be super strong, rather than focusing on just bettering their weaknesses. That’s exactly how you outplay your opponent, and for me, it’s my movement skills on the pitch.
What is the biggest challenge you faced so far in your professional career?
When I was 16, I was having my IGCSE exams while pursuing my World Junior Championship dream and of course, I wasn’t in the best form. Low self esteem hit me hard when players I was not used to losing against, beat me, one after the other. I was let down and almost completely gave up, that’s when my brother interfered and lifted me up. He has been my coach and mentor ever since then.
Are there any remarkable moments that you won’t forget?
Definitely the US Open 2017, the highlight of my career and my personal breakthrough. It was the first time for me to reach a platinum final, let alone win it. And the fact that Nour won it the same day too was incredibly special.