Controversial teenager Mostafa Asal tells Rod
Gilmour he has no regrets following his infamous Egyptian Open clash
with Paul Coll
“We are not robots. This is what the sport needs,” Mostafa Asal says of
the standout moment in squash’s pandemic-ridden year, which not only
divided fans but transcended the sport’s fraternity. “You must express
your feelings and I don’t care if anyone talks with negative vibes. I’m
still 19 and I want to enjoy these moments.”
In case you were hibernating in October, controversy erupted at the end
of Asal’s drama-fuelled quarter-final clash against Paul Coll at the CIB
Egyptian Open. On match point in the fifth game, Coll dropped into the
tin. The Kiwi turned and looked at the referee to claim obstruction, but
Asal was already pulling off his shirt and throwing it towards the
raucous, partisan crowd in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, his arms
flailing wildly in celebration.
It is safe to say that squash had rarely seen the like of it. Had Coll’s
appeal been upheld, there would have been mayhem in the crowd and Asal
would’ve needed to retrieve his shirt rather urgently.
As it was, the decision was ‘no let’ and thus began one of the most
talked about incidents in many a year. “It was very emotional for me,”
the Cairo-born student says of reaching his maiden PSA World Tour
semi-final in his first tournament after a seven-month hiatus.
“My motivation in the last few months was to train hard, study well and
then at the end of the week I could eat a cheat meal. “On a squash
court, in front of fans and friends, I wanted to feel as relaxed as
I played some tough matches, beating Simon Rosner 3/0 and then former
world no.1 James Willstrop 3/0, and then playing Paul.”
Egyptian plays his squash at Al Ahly Sporting Club, known as ‘club of
the century’ with its football team hailed as the most successful
African side. Ahead of the match Asal had messages from friends and
football fans alike asking for tickets.
“The crowd was fired up and it was something sensational for me to play
in front of them,” adds Asal.
One hundred and three minutes later, and coming from 2/1 down, Asal had
set the squash world alight.
“I remember Novak Djokovic when he won the Australian Open in 2013 and
ripped off his shirt,” he says. “For me, it’s good for squash but what I
did was not to make sure people talked about me but it was inside my
heart. To beat Paul in front of Egypt after a really intense match, it
was like winning a football match after extra-time.
“I like to watch all the sports, to see the celebrations of sportspeople
and you see in tennis and other sports there are so many celebrations.
“There is no one in the top 10 firing up squash. I love to watch Greg
Gaultier’s celebrations. Some say it’s negative, others say it’s
positive. I just love to see him for the way he acts and celebrates from
the heart. Ramy Ashour was the same when he won the world title in
Asal insists his shirt didn’t reach the crowd and believes there was
nothing wrong with his celebration, which followed a trend set by
several Egyptian sports stars of placing their palms on the side of
their head in tribute to popular footballer Moamen Zakariya, who has
been diagnosed with Motor Neurone’s Disease.
“The match had 100 per cent ended as Paul had played his shot,” Asal
continues. “I didn’t think it was going to be a review as the ball went
into the tin. We need the sport to grow and I’m happy with all the
reactions around the celebrations.”
The aftermath saw thousands of online views of the final point and
comments galore on social media. Many claimed Asal’s celebrations were
unsportsmanlike, immature and disrespectful at the end of a match which
included blocking and claims of double bounces. Others believed his
theatrics to be just the shot in the arm squash needed.
Friends told Asal not to look at social media. “The most important thing
is for your family and coaches to say if it is right or wrong,” he
Coll also had his say. “It’s not the way I was brought up to play
sport,” he told New Zealand media. “I’m happy to battle it out, but I’m
all for fair play.”
“The match was full squash, fully intense,” said Asal. “For the balls
that were down, I looked to the coaches, as it was difficult to know if
the ball was good or not. The review will always tell you if it’s down
Whether you regard Asal’s behaviour as a long-overdue injection of zest
and character to the game, or disreputable histrionics, there can be no
denying what lies beneath it – passion.
“When you win you can’t describe it,” he says. “When you play 103
minutes in the toughest sport in the world against one of the toughest
opponents, with a football crowd behind you, this hadn’t happened since
Ahmed Barada [Egypt’s star in the 1990s].
“When I get older I’m sure I won’t do these kinds of celebrations. But
any player in any sport can celebrate how he or she wants, to scream
out, and I want to feel that again.”
‘JUNIOR DAYS MADE ME TOUGHER’
up to four matches in one day at Egyptian national junior events helped
Mostafa Asal adapt to the rigours of life on the PSA World Tour.
Asal’s coach, his uncle Ibrahim (a former pro), once entered him for the
under-17 and under-19 events in the same tournament. As a then
16-year-old he was ranked national no.1 in both and recalled the
prospect of playing matches at 1 and 2pm, before further back-to-back
matches at 7 and 8 pm.
“I played in both finals, winning 3/0 in the under-17 and 30 minutes
later I won the under-19 title,” Asal said. “I went to my coach and told
him how tough it was, especially with how my body was feeling.
“I was exhausted but these events helped me a lot in my mental game”
A highly successful junior career yielded one British Junior Open and
two world junior titles at under-19 level and the nickname ‘Raging Bull’
due to his goggles steaming up on court.
Stepping up to the seniors was never going to be an easy ride and he
admitted to feeling immediate pressure to make the grade.
“At the Al Ahly club they are always no.1 in every sport,” he admits.
“Being no.2 is like being no.30, so it was tough to start from the
bottom as a pro, having been at the top as a junior.”
Before turning pro, Asal played over 20 events in each of the last two
seasons, competing at both junior and senior level. “I was thinking
about it every time, not to lose in the early PSA rounds and lose the
winning feeling. It was hard to balance.”
Yet he has adapted remarkably well. From a ranking of 501 in February
2018, he is now inside the world’s top 16 and balancing his squash with
second year studies in business informatics at the Academy of Egypt. Off
court, he is ever-present on Fifa 21 Ultimate Team on the PlayStation,
playing top-level leagues online. “It’s a competition there as well!” he