Interview by RJ Mitchell
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Tarek Momen has revealed that the trials and tribulations of getting acclimatised to being World Champion and a jam-packed schedule in the three months prior to the PSA World Tour’s suspension almost left him burnt out.
The Viper crowned what has been an impressive career by defeating New Zealand’s Paul Coll, in Doha back in November, in a straight games World Championship victory that provided the Egyptian’s defining moment.
The World Champion admitted that there was an emotional cost in the aftermath of his success that he had not expected. However, the 32-year-old regrouped impressively to play a key part in the Egyptian men’s team’s capture of the World Men’s Team Championship in Washington DC last December.
Momen was then back in the U.S. in January which saw him claim an impressive semi-final victory in Grand Central Station over then World No.1 Ali Farag before he lost a taught a four – game final to Mohamed ElShorbagy at the Tournament of Champions.
That was followed by a return to the land of the Pyramids where the World No.4’s attempt to claim the Egyptian national title came up short in a final defeat by Farag after which Momen travelled to Toronto where he claimed another victory over Coll, this time at the Troilus Gold Canada Cup.
Then it was back to North America for the Egyptian, who suffered defeat in the semi-final of the Windy City Open to eventual champion Farag before flying to London for the Canary Wharf Classic where he narrowly missed out to ElShorbagy once again, this time in the semi-final.
Now as he looked back on a season that provided him with the greatest moment of his professional career, so far, but left him on the brink physically and emotionally, Momen admitted he will be tailoring his schedule accordingly when the PSA World Tour resumes.
“In terms of last season, I guess I did achieve my targets, in that I finally won the World Championship but the bottom line is that after winning the Worlds I was pretty exhausted,” said the World No.4.
Tarek Momen with the PSA World Championship trophy
“I’d had a few issues building up to Qatar and the emotional and physical cost of everything I invested to finally become World Champion drained me more than I could ever have contemplated. It just meant so much.
“Afterwards I was happy to take things easy for a while until the World Team Championships in DC and I felt that it got me going again and then in January I made it to the final at ToC and after that I had the Troilus Gold Cup in Canada which I won, the Windy City in Chicago, in which I lost in the semi to Ali [Farag] and then made the semis at Canary Wharf where I lost to Mohamed [ElShorbagy] and I can honestly say I was completely burnt out.
“I was scheduled to go to the Grasshopper Cup a few days later and to be honest I think I would have had to pull out as I had nothing left and I think injury would have been a real danger.
“So, when I look at that there were a lot of highs like winning the individual World title for the first time, helping my country take victory at the World Team Championship and a final in New York, a victory in Toronto and semis in Chicago and London and that is all good.
“But you know I think there may have been a bit of anti-climax in there after the career high of winning a first World title and I have been able to reflect on all of that and learn from the experience and probably if it were not for the suspension I would not have had the chance to do that. So, I know that process will help me throughout the rest of my career for sure and I take it as a big positive I have been able to process it and apply perspective to it all.
“Going forward when the new season does resume, I will be paying much more attention to my schedule. The experience of knowing that I was close to burning out and had nothing left in the tank is something I can’t afford to repeat.
“In the period from the start of the year to the suspension I played five tournaments including the Egyptian Nationals when some of my main rivals played two and I think I paid for that a bit.
“By contrast Mohamed [ElShorbagy] didn’t play the Nationals or Canada so maybe he was smarter about it than me, having only played two tournaments compared to the five I competed in but the other factor here was that the way the tournaments fell I needed to play them to avoid losing ranking points and try and retain my ranking.
“Projecting forward, if the British Open is played in say October I would perhaps play a warm-up tournament that was geographically not far away instead of playing two top level tournaments in September that would drain me for what really matters which is of course the British.
“But now looking back to last season, I wonder if I made the best choices and think, you know, next time I will do things differently and plan smarter. But taking the season as a whole I can say that there is and must be more to come from me.”
When it comes to the resumption of the PSA World Tour and the unfolding of season 2020/21, Momen has no doubt what his priorities are:
“The main target for me has got to be to retain my World title and I must make sure that my season is planned around that and that I do everything I can to make the strongest possible defence of my title which I can produce.
“After that I am very motivated to improve my ranking. Having been up at No.3 and dropped to four my aim is to reclaim three and then start doing everything I can to close the gap on Mohamed and Ali and to do that I must be more consistent.
“But without doubt to win another major this season coming is a huge part of all that and as I have never won the British and I would love to claim that and add it to my World title.”
Momen has also no doubt that his best is still to come, and he fired a warning to the rest of the tour when he said: “I do believe I have another level left in my game. My first big improvement came at around 28/29 years – old and I definitely believe that there are areas of my squash that can be improved and also that at 32 physically I am not at my peak.
“If you look at what Gregory Gaultier and Nick Matthew achieved in their mid – thirties, then I would hope I have a good three or four years in me at the top level with the ability to lift my game again over the coming season and that is what all my work will be geared towards.
“The other thing that is in my favour is that I now have that experience of winning a major and knowing what that is all about and I hope very much that will stand me in good stead when the tour resumes.
“But when you look at how the season finished with Mohamed back on top and Ali so nearly beating him at Canary Wharf and almost back to his best then that underlines the fact that in respect of my own game there can be no resting on my laurels.
Reviewing the four month suspension period Momen admits it has been a balancing act: “You have to be hungry to develop and evolve your game all the time and I am already working on that with a view to the tour getting back.
“It has been a bit of a balancing act in terms of keeping my body in good shape, stay motivated and when I was able to get back on court do my best to get my touch back while at the same time stay relaxed about things and also try and refresh and recharge from a very draining season personally.
“I have been able to train with my coach Haitham Effat at the Cairo Stadium and we got going on that a couple of weeks back and that definitely adds focus to what you are doing, and I guess made things a bit more real.
“But when it comes to getting back in the zone, I guess that will only happen when we have dates to work towards in terms of the resumption of the Tour.”