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Squash brothers go stateside

Egyptians Adham and Ammar too good for the UAE

Image Credit: Courtesy: Asif Khan
Junior squash champions Adham (left) and Ammar Yasser Salem exhibit their class.
Gulf News

Dubai: Holding UAE national squash titles in categories four years above their current age bracket, brothers Adham and Ammar Yasser Salem are, quite literally, too good.

The predicament of dominating the local junior squash circuit isn’t a happy one, however, and in order to improve in a fringe sport, which struggles with sponsorship, the Dubai-based Egyptian siblings now have to travel to tournaments abroad.

“For us to be expecting top 50-100 rankings at U16 level for an 11 and 13-year-old bodes very well for producing a potential world beater. Their performances... were very promising.””
-Faheem Khan | Boys’ cousin and coach
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Having impressed in their international debuts in Europe this summer, the quest is now on for entry into the Junior US Open Squash Championships at Harvard University from December 15-18.

It’s an epic leap both in terms of class and finances, but one their coaches Asif and Faheem Khan fully believe is necessary in order for them to meet their full potential.

Ammar, 11, is already the UAE’s U13 and U15 champion, while Adham, 13, holds the U17 title and both play regularly in division two of the five-tier UAE adult squash league, in between studies at Universal American School in Dubai.

In June, Adham reached the quarter-finals of the Pioneer Cup in Cologne, Germany, knocked out by the eventual champion, while Ammar made the last of 32. Then, later that month, in Amsterdam, Holland, an injured Adham made the last of 32, again succumbing to a finalist, while Ammar made the last 64.

These debut international performances were enough to grant the pair a first European Squash Federation ranking of 146 for Adham at U15 level and 66 for Ammar at U13, enough to qualify them both for the US Open.

“We’re not looking for the amount of trophies on the shelf,” said fitness coach Asif Khan, who, along with his cousin Faheem, has been training the boys for the last 10 months. “The UAE has become too small a place for Adham and Ammar. Now, due to limited resources, we’re selecting only a few international events where they’ll really get the toughest time.

“It doesn’t matter if they get thrashed. In fact, the more they lose, the more they get polished. Win or lose, we’re happy so long as they are giving 100 per cent on and off the court. If you look back through history, none of the world champions got to the top by winning all their junior events.”

Asif added: “There’s been nothing like these two boys in the UAE, certainly for the last seven years that I’ve been here, and there’s unlikely to be anyone like this for the next few years at least. They’re world top-10 material for sure.”

Speed, strength and a preternatural understanding of the game were just some of the qualities that are said to set the boys apart from the pack, but dedication and, in particular, the “craziness” to play on against advice despite injuries, are also in abundance.

Faheem, the boy’s core and mental training coach, believes it’s this spirit that will take them far. He added: “Ammar, the youngest brother, has the fitness and brains to become a future world champion, and Adham will easily become a top-20 player,” said Faheem.

“For us to be expecting top 50-100 rankings at U16 level for an 11 and 13-year-old bodes very well for producing a potential world beater. Their performances in Europe this summer, particularly a top-eight finish from Adham, were very promising.

“They have a very good chance at the US Open. It’s still a few months off and we’re definitely looking to win the U13s and do something special in the U15s. Professionalism is the eventual aim, but first we’ll want to come back from Cologne next year with a champion. After that, Adham, the eldest, could turn professional within two years, and Ammar will follow soon after.”