Amr Shabana, the four times former world champion regarded by some as the greatest player of the 21st century, now believes he can go on to become the oldest world champion.
The 34-year-old Egyptian revealed his new ambition after losing a World Championships quarter-final on Thursday to England’s Nick Matthew, another former world champion.
Shabana was undismayed by the setback, as it was his first tournament in seven months after a liver ailment which he says kept him in bed for five weeks.
“You can’t expect not to compete for that length of time and become world champion,” he said. “But I have the appetite to get back. I will take this as a beginning and not as anything else.
“I still believe I can beat anyone – Ramy (Ashour), Nick (Matthew), Greg (Gaultier). I was not here just to show up. I am trying to win matches.
“I still want to prove that at 34 I can still be number one. I would love to become the oldest world champion,” Shabana added.
“Today with the ways shoes are made, and with the rackets, and the knowledge about nutrition, it is possible. You can see it in footballers and tennis players. So a squash player can do it too.”
The oldest male world champion is Geoff Hunt, who was 33 when he won the title for the last time, at Adelaide in 1980, although his Australian compatriot Heather McKay had won the women’s world title the previous year when she was 38.
In those days it was regarded as normal for a squash player to be at a peak past the age of 30, as competitive matches were fewer and lasted longer which meant that physical strength became one of the highest priorities.
However scoring changes have made matches shorter and rallies correspondingly faster, a development accentuated by bigger headed synthetic rackets which facilitate harder ball striking and sharper, more frequent changes of direction.
This appears to have made it harder for older players, although both David Palmer of Australia and Thierry Lincou of France recently played to a top ten standard close to the age of 35. This will be Shabana’s age at the next World Championships.
Although many will say Shabana’s ambition is implausible, others might point out that he is one of the greatest stroke-makers , and that his style will continue to evolve. It may be that the challenge is vital to add purpose to a life disrupted by Egypt’s many problems.
The man from Cairo emphasised he was not discouraged by Thursday’s loss. “To reach a quarter-final of a World Open after such a long time away is a good start,” he said. “I need more match practice.
“I felt fine, but faced an opponent at the top of his form. It was hard to execute what was in my mind. I’m still trying to get back physically.
“Usually when you lose you are not in the happiest frame of mind, but I don’t feel bad, I don’t feel negative. I can’t wait to go home and start training again. I am optimistic because I know I am still improving.”