By RJ Mitchell
Jahangir Khan has warned Mostafa Asal that the next six months will provide the acid test of his bid to make the leap from the game’s coming force to the game’s global ruler.
Khan, arguably the game’s greatest ever player with a record 10 British Open titles and six World Championships to his credit, making him squash’s most prolific major winner, was enthralled by Asal’s capture of the U.S. Open presented by Truist, last week.
But with the 20-year-old seeded No.7 for the Qatar Q-Terminals Classic which starts on Sunday the immortal Khan says that ‘The Raging Bull’ will find he has now become the hunted rather than the hunter.
Yet, while he has no doubt that Asal will have to lift his level again to climb to the top of the rankings mountain, Khan who supplanted Qamar Zaman as World No.1 back in January 1982 to start a record-breaking 72 consecutive months as the game’s biggest beast, is confident that the young Egyptian’s triumph at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center has already provided enough proof that Asal has what it takes to sweep all before him.
“If Mostafa is to make it to No.1, then he still has plenty of challenging work in front of him. What is most important now is that he has to continue performing at the level he set in the US Open and the next six months are huge in that respect.
“If he doesn’t get any injuries, he will only get stronger and this is Mostafa’s time, it is all there for him, and it all depends on what he wants to be.
“If he is aiming to be No.1 and to be World Champion, then he has a lot of arduous work to do put in but then to achieve things like that it should not be easy.
“Now Mostafa faces the ultimate test. He is now a major title winner and the rest of the guys at the top level will be viewing him as that and it will be interesting to see how he reacts.
“He is still only 20 and he faces a different type of pressure and how he copes with that will tell us a lot. Once you make that big breakthrough it’s how to maintain it and continue to build.
“If you have the ability to control the pressure and control your nerves, then you know where you are and you can just concentrate on achieving the next target.
“Some players can let the pressure get to them and some can use it to spur them on and continue to improve, let’s see which one Mostafa is, but I think he is the latter.”
“Ali Farag is World No.1 and World Champion; Paul Coll won the British Open, which was very good for the game and of course Mohamed ElShorbagy is still right at the top.
“But there are others in the mix now as well with younger guys like [Diego] Elias and [Joel] Makin in there, and they are not going to roll over and make it easy for Mostafa to make it to the top.
“So, now if anything he has to move everything up a level to make sure he combats what they will throw at him.
“I don’t know how Mostafa’s body will react over the next six months or a year and that will be important. He is still only 20 and has plenty of development in front of him physically, mentally, and technically and discipline wise he will also need to improve. “
Asal during his semi-final with Diego Elias
Asal’s long and winding route to glory at the Arlen Specter Center was an epic triumph of mind over matter that took him to the absolute limits of his physical and mental endurance and the legendary Khan, whose run of 555 consecutive professional victories in the 1980s will surely never be remotely threatened, believes the young Egyptian has already shown the qualities of a great future champion.
“For a youngster like Mostafa there was more to do than the rest of the players at the top because they have so much more experience and they have already done it at major tournaments,” said Khan.
“Mostafa has ambitions, but he had to make the breakthrough and I know that he has won the World Tour Finals but to come through at a major tournament like the U.S. Open where he has had to do it the hard way was different.
“To win a 103-minute quarter final, back it up with a 96-minute semi and come from two games down and save a match ball in the final, well that shows that he has it in him to answer all these questions both physically and mentally.
“So, at the very least you have to say his win in Philadelphia was a very a good sign for Mostafa and what will unfold in the rest of his career. Specifically in that final with the amount of squash he had played to get there, and he just didn’t give up.
“Some people make a breakthrough in terms of reaching their ranking and they are happy with that but that was not the case with Mostafa, he played to win every time and for me this indicated he has what it takes to get to the very top.”
But Jahangir had some further sage words of wisdom for newly garlanded U.S. Open champion: “Players should concentrate only on their own abilities and never worry about who they are playing and who is on the other side of the court,” he advised.
“When I was coming through and chasing Geoff Hunt, I focussed only on myself and being the very best player that I could be and playing to the best of my ability and continuing to lift that level.
“The only other person that mattered to me apart from myself was the player I was on court with and beating him. Regardless of the reputation I was there to beat my opponent.
“I knew how hard I was training and what I was doing on the practise court and that gave me the confidence that the results would come and then of course so did the ranking.
“For me it was different as Geoff [Hunt] was coming down the mountain at the time I made the breakthrough and even allowing for that he was still the toughest opponent out there for me and better than the rest.
“So, Geoff was still beating everyone else and then I managed to beat him.”
Himself a two-time U.S. Open winner in 1985 and 1988, Khan has no doubt that with the tournament’s installation at the new multi-million-dollar Arlen Specter Center the profile and kudos attached to his former crown has only added lustre to it.
He said: “In my days the U.S. Open was a new title and I was the first winner. We played mainly in Europe, Australia, and the Middle East but over the last few years there are increasingly great tournaments in the US.
“You have the Tournament of Champions in New York, the Oracle NetSuite in San Francisco and of course now with the Arlen Specter Center, which looked a superb venue for squash, in Philadelphia we have the U.S. Open.
“So, to me that all means that the U.S. Open has greater status now, it’s more important and it is maybe harder to win because of all that. So, in terms of importance, and speaking as a former winner, becoming U.S. Open champion is now a huge thing.”