Squash star Asal using Hong Kong success as fuel following ban, targets repeat

His subsequent 12-week exile, which ended in October, was punishment for a succession of disciplinary infringements in matches at this year’s World Championship in Chicago.

The demonstrative Asal has made enemies of some of his rivals, but is vowing to clean up his act. Photo: Elson Li

“When there is a period of time you are feeling down, watching back moments when you were successful motivates you, it makes you feel good again,” Asal told the Post.

“I can go back and see I was in great finals, and great battles. The final in Hong Kong last year is a big memory. It was a brilliant match and good for squash. I love watching it when I have free time.

“It was a huge step for me, there was pressure because this is a big title, and I was fighting to become world No 1.”

Asal became the third youngest man to top the global rankings after winning the Houston Open, aged 21, in January this year.

He has won three successive editions of the coveted World Tour finals, and “platinum” level events – the most prestigious on the World Tour – in the US and Egypt, in addition to last year’s success in Hong Kong.

But the behavioural issues have held him back, and earned public rebukes from a number of his rivals, leading the demonstrative Asal to seek counsel from James Willstrop, the English former world No 1 and 2011 Hong Kong Open champion.

Asal is vowing to maintain the competitive edge that allowed him to climb to world number one. Photo: Elson Li

“I know there is something that should be fixed,” Asal said. “I am adapting and trying to make this better.

“I flew over to see James, and now he is in Hong Kong with me. We are working on a lot of things, to help me stay calm and manage pressure during matches.

“The few tournaments I played since the ban, I have been getting it. I am trying to be calm and not do anything outrageous.

“But I need a balance, so I keep my competitiveness. I am levelling up, and there is more to do, but, hopefully, I am on the right track.”

Asal admitted coming back to Hong Kong as defending champion “adds pressure to my shoulders”.

And given his paucity of recent match practice, he would have gladly traded his first-round bye to play on Monday’s opening day.

Asal will face compatriot Youssef Ibrahim, after the left hander overcame Hong Kong’s Henry Leung Chi-hin to reach round two.

The incentive, beyond a repeat triumph, is to stick around long enough to experience playing the semi-finals and final in an outdoor glass court in West Kowloon.

“This is the lovely thing about playing in different regions,” Asal said.

“It is a chance to inspire youngsters, they can see what the top guys are doing. I have been there, I was a junior asking Karim Abdel Gawad [Egyptian 2016 world champion] to play games with me [Gawad obliged and practised with the youngster].

“It is amazing to be back in Hong Kong. It is an incredible tournament, with a brilliant vibe, and the people are so lovely.”

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