Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi has revealed that without the persuasive powers of Aussie squash immortal Geoff Hunt he may have chosen a career in football over squash.
The 25 year-old was a talented footballer as a child and was on the books of Al Sadd, the biggest team in Qatar who are the only side from the middle eastern country to have won the Asian Champions League and also competed in the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup.
With the FIFA World Cup scheduled to be played in Al Tamimi’s native Qatar in 2022, his teenage heart was set on staking a place in the national side, until Hunt, an eight-time British Open winner, took over at the Aspire Academy and persuaded Al Tamimi that his true vocation lay in competing on the squash court.
All of which has lead Abdulla, who is due to get married later this week, to admit that Hunt had become a father figure.
“Without Geoff I can honestly say that, 100 per cent, I would not be playing squash now. I was really sick of it and at 16 years old had set my heart on making the Qatar national football team in time for the World Cup,” admitted Al Tamimi.
“Geoff arrived at the Aspire Academy in Qatar around 11 years ago. I must be honest and say that at the time I did not take squash as seriously as soccer, which was my No.1 sport. I maybe just played squash twice a week and the rest of time it was all about football with most of my energy being channelled into the Al Sadd Club.
“But at 17 years old, I had a decision to make, it was either squash or football and Geoff was a huge part of the reason I chose squash. He has been almost like a second father.
Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi waves to the fans during the 2019-20 PSA Men's World Championship in Doha, Qatar
“Given the traditions and the culture of Qatar I really do believe with those type of challenges facing anyone else they wouldn’t have lasted, but not Geoff, he is just a truly outstanding man.
“He has really taught me everything, the sports science, the nutrition and diet and of course the squash specific training required. He took me all the way to the World Championships, which was our last tournament together and held in Qatar.
Obviously, I came really close to beating Tarek [eventual winner, Momen] and although I fell short of defeating him, I really hope I made Geoff proud with my efforts because I owe him everything.
“These days we speak virtually every week and I know that I will always be close to Geoff. He really believed in me and he helped me believe in myself and that made all the difference, and I guess is why I am a professional squash player.”
But when the great Hunt, who was the professional game’s inaugural World Champion back in 1976, stood down he handed the coaching baton on to another Aussie, Rodney Martin, the 1991 World Champion, who has also helped Mohamed ElShorbagy reclaim the World No.1 slot for the fourth time in his career.
Al Tamimi explained: “Before Geoff decided to stand down, he had recommended Rod Martin as my new coach and I am so glad he did. Rodney is just a brilliant coach with an unbelievable knowledge of the game and before the Worlds I was lucky enough to enjoy a three-week training camp with him and of course that meant I was also able to work with Mohamed ElShorbagy.
“For someone like me who is hoping to climb the rankings to be able to train, play and work with the World No.1 for three weeks was just massive. Everything that Rod and Mohamed do is done to a fantastic standard and that just meant my game was lifted to another level.
“But what working with Rod has taught me is that everything I do on the training court has to be to the very highest standard I can produce. If I am up in a training game and I make an error, then I am docked three points, everything is done so that it is part of a process.
“What I now realise is that you can’t get ahead of yourself, you have to stay in the now. I have real belief that if I keep putting myself in strong positions then the big wins I need to climb into the top 20 will come.
“People just don’t understand how good Rod Martin is and I guess I didn’t either until I was on court working with him. A lot of people have said negative things about Rod, but I tell you this, he is the most honest man you will ever meet and if you don’t like honesty then you can forget it.
“So, I have stayed in contact with Rod nearly every week through lockdown and he knows what I am doing, and we are ready to take preparations to the next level when the green light shines.”
While he is back up at No.29 in the PSA rankings Tamimi has had to reclaim lost ground after injury robbed him of five months after being struck down by Compartment Syndrome in both legs.
“Compartment Syndrome occurs when the pressure within a compartment increases and restricts the blood flow to the area and can potentially damage both the muscles and nerves and it took real momentum away from my career in 2019,” Tamimi reflected.
“It required surgery in both legs to sort it and it was just really frustrating to be chasing a top 20 spot and then you are out for almost half a year. Up until that point things had been going great and my work with Geoff had taken me to my highest ranking and things were going to schedule.
“But I was suffering from it in both legs and had no option but to have the surgery. Thankfully it has paid off and before lockdown I had my best ever win when I beat Mohamed Abouelghar at the Windy City Open and to be back playing tournament after tournament and getting into a rhythm was fantastic. It just felt great to be back in the top 30 again and then COVID-19 struck and the tour was suspended.”
Yet the frustration of his spell on the sidelines in 2019 has left Tamimi sanguine about the current suspension of the PSA World Tour.
“There is no point in getting frustrated. I was 23 in the world and then had to go through surgery, was out for five months and ended up down at 50. What that taught me is that it is very easy to be negative, but what you have to do is have a goal and stay focused on it and not deviate from it no matter what life throws at you,” said the Qatari ace.
Al Tamimi takes on Tarek Momen (left) in Doha
“I am almost 26, I am getting married and when the tour comes back, I will be ready to do some damage. Believe me!”
Al Tamimi’s preparations for the lifting of the suspension are already well progressed thanks to a little help from a friend.
“We have had our courts open in Qatar for around two months and every day I have been hitting with Jonathan Kemp,” he revealed.
“We started out boast and driving, width and restricted games and as the restrictions have been lifted, we have progressed.
“But it has been great to have someone like Jonathan Kemp, who was World No.20, as my designated hitting partner and that has ensured that my touch and feel are there and the basics of my game are good. This is really important as I wouldn’t want all the progress I had made to be eroded.
“Right now, we don’t have a date for the resumption of the tour, so what is vital is that you don’t overdo things. As soon as we get the word we are eight weeks out from the suspension being lifted that will be when it is time to kick on.”