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Martin Bronstein’s astigmatic view of the world
of squash.

© 2001 All rights reserved.

photos © 2001, D Tessier, R Beck and V Winchell

April 10, 2001, CAIRO.
© 2001

Bronstein and Golestan Radwan

The big question in squash right now
is What has happened to Ahmed Barada?

He has pulled out of the last three
tournaments and has split with Hashem El Attar, his charming and articulate
(in three languages) coach. This is written on the eve of a major
tournament in Hurghada in Egypt, the PSA Masters, and, once more, Barada
will be absent. This would have been unthinkable a year ago; Barada is
one of the great personalities of Egypt, inside and outside sport. No
squash tournament of any note could have taken place without his charismatic
presence. He was number three in the world and looking forward to taking
over from the two players above him, Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power, who
were both older than him. But then came….

It was just over a year ago that Barada was mysteriously stabbed in the
back by an unknown assailant. It happened at night outside his house and
the motive
has never been established. He was rushed off to Germany for specialist
attention where it was established the two knife wounds were not serious.
Concern subsided when 10 weeks later he was in London playing the Super
Series Finals and giving an excellent performance; it was, we were all
assured, a matter of months before Barada was back in top shape and once
more challenging Nicol and Power. After all, just seven months previously,
he had beaten them both, one after the other, to win the Heliopolis title
in Cairo.

By August 2000 Barada was back to speed and pushed Nicol to four games
in the final of the Al Ahram International. But then it all started to
go wrong and nobody seems to know why. In the second round of the Hong
Kong Open, he retired in the middle of the third game against Steward
Boswell. A month later he lost to David Evans in the second round of The
Eye Group British Open.
A month after that, in November 2000, he lost to David Palmer in the Florida
Open quarter-finals, retiring in the middle of the third game. In December
he was in Toronto, playing in the first YMG Capital Classic where he beat
Del Harris in four, whipped Paul Price, the surprise British Open finalist,
in three straight before losing to Peter Nicol in the semis in four. Since
then, nothing. Nada. Rien. Pure Zero.

Amidst a Niagara of rumors, Barada has failed to play in one tournament
in the year 2001. His absence, said the rumors were due to injuries in
his leg, his lower back, his groin….in fact a complete tour of the Barada
body parts. Nothing confirmed. He was suffering from depression, said
another rumor. He had split from his future wife. Unliklely – they had
only become engaged in January. The big Black Hole in Barada’s life was
caused by the disappearance of his long time coach, friend and mentor,
Hashem el Attar. That is over dramatic. Hashem told me that he simply
could no longer, nor did he want to, spend so much time away from his
wife and two very small children (13 months and 3 years in age) who live
in Turin. I contacted him by phone and he happily tried to solve the mystery.

“Barada insisted on having me as a
coach. I was with him for six years out of the last twelve. I started
coaching him when he was a ten year old kid and I was one of the better
players in Egypt. For the last four years I was on a 12 month contract
and I tried to do two months at a time, but it never worked out that way.
It couldn’t go on forever, it was too hard for me and my wife.

“I don’t know what has happened over
the last few months; I’m not sure that he wasn’t stressed because he knew
I was not going to carry on after Hong Kong. It was quite difficult for
him knowing that things were not going to be the same. You must realise
I had worked hard with him on and off court. I did the running with him
and I pushed him so he must have been affected by not having me near him.

“I still don’t know why he stopped
training. I got an e-mail from one of my former assistants in January
saying Ahmed had stopped. I tried to phone him because I wanted to know
why but he had his phone switched off. He doesn’t want the hassle of the
television and newspapers calling him wanting to know what was happening.

“We parted on good terms. He understood
perfectly well that I couldn’t go on forever. The last time I spoke to
him was when he called me in December to invite me to his engagement party
in January, but I absolutely could not make it.”

I told Hesham that I found it strange that Barada would not call him after
such a close relationship.

“Once he has had two bad results in
a row he will have all the papers calling him asking ‘what’s happening
to you Ahmed?’ and it puts more pressure on him, so he has another bad
result and it gets worse and worse, so he switches off the phone,” was
Hashem’s explanation.

Did Ahmed recover mentally from the
stabbing incident, I wondered. “I thought he played very well just twelve
weeks later in the Super Series. I though he would only be back to normal
when he trained sand started believing in himself again. But from Hong
Kong he hasn’t really played well at all – he had some stomach problems
there and he wasn’t feeling well before the match,” Hashem responded.

One top player, who shall remain nameless, thinks we’ve seen the end of
Barada. “He’s out of the top eight, protected seeding, so he could well
meet one of us in the first round and he’ll lose because he’s rusty. And
he won’t like that. And he’s going to marry a very rich woman, which will
be another get out. I don’t think we’ll see him back again.”

Barada’s smouldering good looks makes him a natural for the big screen
and there are dozens of rumors floating around about offers for him to
turn to acting. Another rumor has it that Barada is now in the US either
to recover from injury or just for a holiday. Or talking to Speilberg
about a remake of The Sheik?

After one of the most miserable British winters since my return from Canada
16 years ago (rain, rail crashes, hoof-and-mouth disease, The Weakest
Link) I’m off to Egypt for two days in Cairo and five days in Hurghada
on the Red Sea to keep you up-to-date on the WISPA Grand Prix Finals (eight
top women)
and the PSA Masters. Sadly Cassie Campion won’t be there as she has dropped
out of the top eight, but everybody else will be. Will Sarah Fitz-Gerald
show that she really is the best? Will Leilani Joyce manage to up her
performance? Can Carol Owens repeat her world open triumph? Will the newly-married
Linda Charman-Smith produce her best form? And will Nathalie Grainger
get rid of her nerves and show the world just how good she can be? After
a long lay-off, they will all be raring to go.

Same thing with the men, another long
layoff because of postponements…indeed only two tournaments of note this
year so far, so everybody will be in Cairo for the early rounds. Two notable
exceptions are Barada (but you already know about that) and Peter Marshall
who is still suffering from an injury. With Power back on the number one
spot, Nicol will be aching to get on court with him. David Evans will
want to prove his British Open win was no fluke and Simon Parke must want
to get his 3/4 spot back again. They won’t be making the draw until April
12 and it will be right here on Squashtalk.


Well, hardly a kid. Damian Walker is 32 and just when we thought he’d
disappeared into the American squash infrastructure, he jumps out as the
new American champion. At 32! Furthermore, the man he beat in the final
was another ancien (polite French word for old bloke) Richard Chin, who
is also 32. Despite their combined ages being pensionable, they played
for 1 hour and 45 minutes in the final – the longest match of the tournament.
Marty Clarke was too busy playing doctors and nurses to enter so Walker
cleaned up after about 10 years off the circuit.


I first came across Damian in the mid-eighties, one of a mass of promising
juniors. What first struck me was that he not of the run-of-the-mill English
tradition of endlessly hitting the ball up and down the side walls through
fear of making a mistake if he went for a drop. He enjoyed making his
racket do the work, an attractive player to watch. He did well, representing
England ten times at junior level. Then he discovered flying and the United
States of America, probably at the same time. Soon he was taking flying
lessons and the next thing he’d flown Mother England for Uncle Sam. That
was ten years ago; since then he’s plied his trade as a squash pro In
Santa Barbara, Sacramento, (where he met his wife seven years ago), Atlanta,
Maryland Naval Academy and now he’s landed in Greenwich at the classy
Field Club.

He spent two years at the Naval Academy
and left with mixed feelings. “I left because teaching is what you do
at the end of your career. But it was very satisfying because those kids
in the Academy were hungry. They really worked hard, for themselves and
for the team. For a coach it is the best situation,” he explained with
genuine enthusiasm.

Perhaps there was a hunger to get
back to playing again, which a move to Greenwich allowed him to satisfy.

“I haven’t really played for four
years because I just didn’t have time to play. In the US championships
I was winging it on what I learned when I was under 16,” he say with an
honesty that won’t make him too popular with the other players in the
US Championships.

“I was scared witless by Julian Illingworth
in the first round. He’s very good and although I beat him in three, at
one point I thought I was going to get beaten by a junior. I was very
impressed with him and William Broadbent who is a member of the Greenwich
club. He’s got a lot of promise,” Walker said.

Now Walker is nearer the seat of
USSRA power he feels he can start to achieve his main coaching goal –
the US team.

“I want to get involved in a national
squad and I’ve put my name in the ring. I watch the American juniors and
while they are fine technically, when it comes to strategy, they need
a lot of advice. I think I can give them that advice,” Walker claimed.

As the new American Champion ( I
bet the Keepers of Greenwich are very pleased with that) Damian will be
more than welcome and the kids will want to see this experienced player
in action. My advice to them is watch his racquet work and his feet. To
Damian I say, Welcome back.

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