"Representing Egypt is the best thing I have done in my life," says Egyptian squash player Habiba Mohamed
Habiba Mohamed is an Egyptian squash player who was the world junior champion in 2014. She's currently playing for Columbia University. She's also the youngest woman to break into the Top 20 in the PSA rankings until now.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Habiba talks about her squash career.
Here are the excerpts:
Q: What prompted you to choose squash as your career?
A: Squash isn’t really my career, it’s a daily routine that I can’t imagine my life without. I really enjoy playing squash. I feel like I am always dedicated and excited to start my day by playing squash. My dream is to become one of the top squash players in the world.
Q: Jacques Swanepoel and coach Joanne Schkriling are your coaches in the Columbia University. What are the similarities between them and that of Ahmed Shohayeb and Karim Shohayeb?
A: Ahmed Shohayeb and Karim Shohayeb used to be my coaches when I was in Egypt. Ahmed was my coach for more than 7 years so he knows my game really well. The best thing about Ahmed was that he believed in me more than anyone else. He was always my number 1 supporter.
Karim is one of the most talented coaches I’ve ever seen in my squash career. He helped me in improving my game a lot and he always helps me in setting up my game plans. I also can’t forget to mention my new coaches here at Columbia University, coach Jacques Swanepoel and coach Joanne Schkriling.
Jacques is so similar to Ahmed Shohayeb, he always believes in me and I really feel so comfortable talking to him before my matches because he is always motivating me and according to my experience in squash, which is more than 12 years, I genuinely find Jacques one of the most helpful when it comes to coaching me between games.
Joanne is also a great supporter and she always helps me manage my stress before any match.
Q: How would you like to describe the squash culture in Columbia University?
A: Playing squash at Columbia is totally different than playing squash professionally while representing my nation. In my opinion, we have the best athletic department. As we all know, squash is an individual sport.
However, at Columbia I never had that feeling. My teammates are all so supportive. We created the best environment so that everyone on the team would be willing to work harder. They make playing squash more fun. Playing while my teammates are cheering for me, was a great experience. Having the chance to practise with 16 girls daily, helps me improve a lot.
As I mentioned before, having a head coach as Jacques is a huge opportunity that definitely helped a lot. Playing squash for Columbia is just the most fun experience I’ve had in my squash career.
Q: The squash season is set to continue from August. What are your plans for the season?
A: Being a student at Columbia University doesn’t really give me the chance to play as many PSA tournaments as I used to. However, I am now working so hard and getting ready for the next season with Columbia since I am free at summer time. We did great last season and I am sure we can do much better this season.
Q: Who is your idol? What role has he/she played in your career?
A: My parents and my teammate Tanvi Khanna are my idols to be honest. My parents are the reason behind every success in my life. They were always there for me, always helped me in getting better at everything and I always look up to them. Since both of my parents were athletes, they know the importance of the parental support to build a champion.
They were able to manage their time between working, coming with me to every single practice, travelling with me to all tournaments, helping me study and much more. So for me they’re the real champions.
Tanvi is one of the most dedicated people I’ve seen in my life. I always learn from her how to manage my time. She is a great example of a professional athlete and an amazing person that I always look up to.
Q: You were the world junior champion in 2014. How would you like to describe your feelings at the time you were receiving the gold medal?
A: When I won the World Junior Championship in 2014, I was extremely overwhelmed. I didn’t believe that I finally achieved my dream, especially after beating current world number one Nour El Sherbini in the semi-finals and one of the top squash players and a great friend of mine, Nouran Gohar in the final.
I was extremely happy and glad that all the hard work paid off. Winning this tournament definitely boosted my self-confidence as it made me reach top 20 in PSA and become the youngest ever to reach top 20 until now. Winning this title is the best feeling ever that I’ll never forget. The feeling of making my parents, coaches, friends and my whole nation proud just cannot be told in words.
Q: Egypt has been producing some extraordinary squash players in the recent times. What is unique about the Egyptian squash culture?
A: In my opinion, Egypt was never that good at squash before Barada. He was the role model of every Egyptian squash player. He is one of the main reasons that squash is now a very famous sport in Egypt and because of him more players started joining the sport and setting up a goal to be like him. Many years after Barada, so many great squash champions came. So in Egypt, we always have a new role model in squash that we look up to.
Moreover, something so special about squash in Egypt is that all the top players help in establishing young players. This creates an amazing atmosphere for young athletes and helps them love the sport more. For me, I always looked up to Mohamed El Shorbagy. He inspired me a lot. He used to play with me whenever I asked to. So getting support from such a great player was a huge inspiration for me.
Q: What are the changes that you've observed in the squash level in Egypt which have boosted up the level of Egyptian squash?
A: We have started conducting many tournaments so as to make Egyptian players get used to playing under pressure. And, in my opinion, this helps in boosting the squash level because as we all know, squash is more like a mental game.
Q: There are various young squash players who wish to represent their nation. What piece of advice would you like to give to them?
A: Representing your nation is one of the best opportunities anyone could ever get. It’s so different than just representing your club. In order to represent your nation, you have to be responsible. You have to know that every win or loss doesn’t just affect you but affects a whole nation.
For me, representing Egypt was the best thing I’ve done in my life. And I’ll always be proud of representing Egypt. I always kept in mind that I am not playing for myself. If I win, other nations won’t say Habiba won but they will announce it as Egypt has won a gold medal.
That thought always made me so motivated and made me more mature and responsible of my actions to become the best representative of my nation.