“All the best coaches are in the stands” is a saying that absolutely rings true at the Delaware Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships at Drexel University.
With three former world #1 players and one former world #2 among their ranks, the coaches share their wisdom and their insights with the players after every game.
Amr Shabana, 2014 Delaware Investments U.S. Open finalist, four-time world champion, and former world #1, is the current National Teams Director and Technical Adviser for the Egyptian Squash Federation. He retired in August and was immediately hired in an oversight position to work with Egyptian coaches and players.
To say Shabana has been busy is an understatement. Twelve Egyptians advanced to the second round with seven men accounting for nearly 50% of the Round of 16 and four Egyptians squaring off against each other.
In the women’s draw, three of the four quarterfinalists in the top half of the draw are Egyptian, resulting in at least one guaranteed semifinalist.
Shabana is a fixture at courtside. He is quick to clarify that he is not coaching these players in the traditional sense.
“They have their own coaches,” he explained. “I offer my view between games. I tell them what I am seeing them do on the court in their match, and they can do whatever they want with my input.”
Today was a long day from start to finish. Shabana was involved in five of the day’s eight scheduled matches. At noon, he was there to counsel Nour El Tayeb, who defeated Britain’s Emma Beddoes in three games, followed immediately by Nour el Sherbini outlasting Donna Urquhart in a hard fought five-game match. Former world #1 Ramy Ashour then defaulted to Mathieu Castagnet due to injury.
Shabana had a nearly three-hour break before world #1 Raneem El Welily faced Britain’s Jenny Duncalf whom she beat in four games. In the evening’s closing match, Shabana enjoyed a quick victory by world #1 Mohamed Elshorbagy over Scotland’s Greg Lobban, 3-0.
“Unofficially for the last several years, players began conferring with me and opening up,” Shabana said. “I became an adviser. Players know I have been where they are. I look at their games from a wide angle.”
With a day off today for current world #2 Nicol David, her coach of 13 years, Liz Irving, was relaxed in the stands.
A former world #2 herself, Irving, who is from Brisbane, Australia, was considering retirement in 1999 when she accepted a head teaching professional job in Amsterdam. By 2000, she had started her own Academy, and the rest is history.
Irving has been by David’s side since the beginning of her rise to the top of the professional rankings, which included a record-setting nine years at world #1.
“I work with Nicol to ensure a solid emotional well-being, and then she performs at her best,” explained Irving. “We do not focus on results.”
Both Shabana and Irving stress the importance of a strong support team for the players provided by squash federations and governments.
“Nutrition, fitness, and physical therapy are all important areas for players to handle properly,” emphasized Irving.
In addition, Irving said there has to be “down time” for the athletes, and with a day off, Irving and David were off to visit the famous Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Tuesday will be a different regimen with David scheduled at 5:30 pm for her second round match against Egyptian Nouran Gohar, who is the current world junior champion and who defeated David in September in the China Open quarterfinals.
While David and Gohar square off on the glass court in main draw action, the match of wits will continue at courtside between Irving and Shabana, two of the game’s greatest minds.