1999 , London, Â© 2001 SquashTalk
Photos: Â© 2000 Martin Bronstein
by Martin Bronstein
Karim : a legend
On the eve of Egypt’s
biggest squash festival, September 9 1999, Mahmoud el Karim, one, one of the
true legends of the game, died at the age of 83. He was a player of unique
talent, one who brought completely new qualities to the game.
I had the good fortune
to sit next to Karim during the first Al Ahram tournament in 1996 and
it was a rare moment in my career: sitting in plush seats watching the
best squash players in the world with a backdrop of the illuminated Pyramids
and Karim by my side giving me his candid – and sometimes inflammatory
– comments. He told me quite openly that before one meeting with another
great Egyptian legend F.D. Amr Bey,
he was offered money to lose the game – which he refused.
Karim first played
golf and tennis at the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo before discovering squash
at the age of 15. He enjoyed it so much, that he devoted all his time to the
Maged Abaza of the
Egyptain Squash Federation knew Karim and was one of his legion of admirers:
"He had this elegant style – white flannel trousers and cashmere pullover.
He was very tall and slim, and had talent . He was a stroke and control player
and used his reach to great effect.
He always said that
squash is an art and not a question of power. He said that the power players
thought they were boxing. He would say never try to play a winner off a serve.
Put it down the wall and get your opponent behind you. He combined good length
shots with wonderful winners – but only once you were behind him. His favourite
shot was a volley stop drop shot, forehand and backhand," Abaza recalls.
After beating Victor
Cazalet and Kenneth Gandar Dower when they visited Cairo, Karim was hungry
to try his game against bigger fish. He went to London and beat the darling
of the squash world Amr Bey, who
had dominated the game in the thirties.
in 1946 he started
a four year reign of the British Open only to be stopped when Hashim Khan
made his historic debut in 1950. The squash world was stunned when Karim was
beaten 9-5, 9-0, 9-0. As he came off the court he was heard to mutter, "Too
slow, too slow."
He reached the Open
final the following year and once more Khan beat him in three. He never competed
in the Open again and back in Cairo he felt he could not support his large
family – he had six sons and two daughters – and so moved to Montreal as the
squash pro at the Montreal Athletic Association, an exclusive club with American
When he was 72 he
wanted to return Cairo, "to die in my country". It was an emotional
homecoming and they made him director of squash at the Gezira club.
His place in the
halls of squash is firmly secured alongside those of Hashim Khan and Amr
Bey. We can only mourn that there is no archival film that we can
see the style and art of the man.
Roy McElvie, a contemporary
paid him the ultimate complement: " Karim was a joy. If I had to play
the eternal match, in heaven or hell, I would play Karim. Just for the fun."