Q & A with Amanda Sobhy, Brett’s Squash Blog

 

Sunday January 31st, 2016

Amanda Sobhy is Team USA’s number 1 female squash player and is currently ranked number 7 on the world professional tour. She hails from Long Island, New York, and is now based in Boston.

Amanda recently caused a stir at one of the biggest events on the calendar in NYC, the Tournament of Champions, by beating the seedings and making it all the way to the finals. Could this be the beginning of a break out period for her? At 22 years of age, by most accounts, she is already the most accomplished American-born female squash player in history.

I got the chance to catch up with Amanda and ask her a few questions.

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BE: On your 17th birthday in 2010 you won the World Junior Squash Championships. You are the first and only American winner of this event ever. Was it at this point that you decided that life as a professional squash player may be a real option for you?


AS: Winning the World Junior Squash Championships is still one of my favorite squash memories because it was the first time I realized that I could be one of the top squash players in the world (Juniors at the time). I knew at that point that I definitely wanted to be a professional squash player.

BE: You have the best record as a college squash player in the history of American squash. You won 4 consecutive individual intercollegiate titles and went undefeated in all of the 62 matches you played. Despite that, there has been much debate in squash as to whether going to college is harmful to one’s progress as a squash player. Do you think your 4 years at Harvard helped or hurt your pro squash career and how did you keep up the pace of improvement during college?

AS: I totally believe that my 4 years at Harvard helped out my professional squash career and my squash in general. Being in such an academically rigorous school, it definitely improved my mental game in squash since it made me become a smarter player on court. I was able to keep up my training by working with the Harvard men’s team a few times a week along with hitting with players in Boston. Junior year was when I started working with Thierry Lincou who is my coach now, so that helped out immensely since I worked with him a couple times a week in the morning and then he would give me stuff to do the other days of the week to keep up the training
BE: It is hard to believe you graduated and officially turned pro only 8 months ago. But, as a 16-year-old you had already played and won numerous pro tournaments. You could have had more titles by now had you skipped college, but I’m sure you don’t regret going to college though? 
AS: It is crazy to think that I only graduated 8 months ago and that this is my first official season as a full time professional. In college, I was still able to play a few tournaments during the year provided I didn’t miss too many classes, however, I wasn’t allowed to take any prize money due to NCAA rules. I just played for the love of the sport and to try and improve my ranking. If I skipped college and just went full time on tour, I definitely would have a few more titles under my belt, but I probably would have gotten burnt out along the way and so I am really glad I went to Harvard. I don’t regret it one bit and I know that no matter what happens, I will always have my Harvard degree!

BE: It is amazing that in only 8 months as a pro you are already at a career high world number 7. To what do you attribute your rapid rise up the rankings and is it what you expected?

AS: It’s exciting to finally break into the single digits and get to a career high of 8 in January and now 7 in February! That makes me the highest ever ranked US born female squash player I believe. I have been working really hard with my coaches and fitness trainer up in Boston for the past half a year since I moved in August. The beginning of the season I had a few tough draws and losses in the round of 16, but I could feel myself getting closer and closer each time, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I had my breakthrough.

BE: What is your most memorable performance as a squash player playing in a team context? Was it your collegiate victories, the 2014 World Team Champs or perhaps the Panam Games golds with Team USA? 
AS: Wow. There are so many memorable performances in a team context. You pretty much nailed them all with winning the Team College Nationals with my Harvard Teammates, clinching a record 5th place for the US team at the 2014 Women’s World Team Championships, and also getting 3 gold medals at the 2015 PanAmerican Games. These are all amazing memories that I will forever cherish with my teammates.

BE: You have won the US National Title twice, but ended runner-up to your younger sister, Sabrina, in the 2014 event. Is it normally close between you two when you play each other? Your sister is attending Harvard now, you must be very proud. How do you feel about the comparisons to the William sisters who have dominated the sport of tennis?
AS: It’s always close when I play my sister. For some annoying reason, she always plays so well against me since she wants to beat me, so it’s good practice. However, I am extremely competitive and I hate losing, so I made sure that her win against me in the 2014 US Nationals finals was a one off thing. I am definitely very proud of her for going to Harvard and playing for the team. She is doing really well in her first season on the team at number 1, and I hope that she considers playing professionally for a bit because she is extremely talented and has a ton of potential. Its an amazing feeling to be compared to the William sisters. I grew up idolizing those two, so to be able to be compared to them is a dream!

BE: In July last year in Toronto you made history by winning 3 gold medals in a single Pan American Games. That must have been pretty amazing and hard to top. Do you think that squash should be in the Olympics and what would it mean to you to win an Olympic Gold for your country? 

AS: Squash 100% should be in the Olympics. It is quite sad that we aren’t to be honest because as a sport we fully deserve to be in there with the rest of the sports. Winning an Olympic medal for my country would mean the absolute world to me. I could not think of anything better than that in the world of sport!

BE: You are also an accomplished hardball doubles player, you won the 2013 World Doubles Championship with your friend, and former world number one, Natalie Grainger. Given your busy schedule on the singles tour, how much doubles do you realistically intend playing in future?

AS: I absolutely love hardball doubles! It is so much fun and I find it helpful for my singles game actually, so I always love to play hardball doubles whenever I can, or whenever I need a break from singles. Unfortunately I only get to play about 2-3 hardball doubles tournaments a year, but luckily there are courts at the University Club in Boston, which is my home club, so I get to play a bit when I’m not traveling for tournaments.

BE: You are an ambassador for NUSEA and a mentor for SquashBusters in Boston. How did you get involved with urban squash and what inspires you to give of your time despite the constraints of being a professional athlete? 
AS: Being involved in the Urban Squash community is an amazing feeling. It’s always great to be able to give back to the squash community and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it. I volunteered at SquashBusters a few times while at Harvard, so I knew since I was staying in Boston that I wanted to get more involved. They have an awesome mentor program set up where a SquashBusters kid gets paired up with you, so I have my mentee who is great and I can share some of my squash knowledge with her and help her out as much as possible. These urban squash programs are fantastic because it’s giving so many kids this amazing opportunity of playing squash and being part of a great community. I stopped by the Urban Team Nationals in Boston the weekend after TOC and the kids were so excited to be playing and be in the team environment. It was great to see that and I want to give back as much as possible in order to help keep growing these programs.

BE: In the recent Tournament of Champions in New York you had somewhat of a breakthrough moment. You reached the finals of this World Series event after beating former world number one, Raneem El Welily, much to the delight of the home crowd. You must still be on a high after that great performance? 
AS: The Tournament of Champions was definitely a major breakthrough for me. It was the first time I’ve ever gotten to a World Series Finals and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to do that! It was a great tournament since I had some solid wins against top players like Raneem who has beaten me the past few times pretty badly. It was definitely tough to mentally recover after that tournament since it was such a grand stage and prestigious event, but it has given me a lot of confidence going into the 2nd half of the season knowing that I have what it takes to beat the top players.

BE: Watching your matches at ToC I realized that your foot speed relative to other players definitely gives you an edge. You just seem to be a step faster and stronger than the other girls. Have you been focusing on this aspect lately?
AS: Thank you for saying this! I work so hard to improve my foot speed and movement since that’s been one of my biggest issues. Given that I’m solidly built and pretty tall for a girl, my movement has always been my biggest issue, so it doesn’t come as naturally to me compared to my sister who is one of the faster movers I have ever played against. As a result, I work on my movement almost every day with my coaches or fitness trainer, so we are always working together in order to get it as efficient as possible.

BE: In terms of your shot making at ToC, you made very effective use of holds. You did that very effectively to set up many rallies that you won. Is that a thing you have been working on and do you think being left handed helps in this regard?
AS: Being left handed definitely helps and I take a lot of pride in being left handed. In terms of my shot making, that has always been my style, so I make sure that I am always practicing on that with my coaches. I have a very aggressive and attacking game, so putting in shots and using the hold is what I like to do. Sometimes it can be a bit risky and result in errors, so I’m trying to make sure that I’m more patient and consistent and use it at the right time.

BE: You currently have 2 coaches both of whom live in Boston. Presumably, that is why you have decided to remain there, even after graduating, and not return to New York? Why 2 coaches, do they help you in different areas?

AS: Yes I decided to stay in Boston because of my coaches. I think that it is essential for me as a player to have a good team of coaches and people working with me while I am in the early phases of my career. Thierry Lincou and Shahid Zaman are both my coaches and they complement each other very well. Thierry works with me a lot on the foundation and structural aspect and movement in order to build up a good base, while Shahid works with me a lot on attacking shots and putting the ball away. I really enjoy working with them, so I try to see one or both of them every day.BE: Your father was your coach growing up. He, and your brother, who is older, are both good squash players in their own right. Have you ever beaten your father or brother in an actual match and how much did their achievements inspire you to play squash while you were growing up?

AS: My family is such a squash family, so it’s good and bad in the sense that I will have someone to train with whether it’s my siblings or feeding from my dad, but it’s constantly just non stop squash talk in the house. We always have family rankings on who is the best since we aren’t competitive or anything, so my brother, Omar, stands at 1, I’m 2, Sabrina is 3, my dad is 4, and my mom is 5. My brother and I always have extremely contentious matches that usually end in us fighting, but he knows how to get inside my head so he wins usually. At least it is good practice for me because if I ever play someone on the tour who blocks and likes to get in the way, I have no problem with them since I’m so used to Omar blocking me out and he’s 6′ 2″ and built like an ox.BE: Who are your role models and why? 

AS: My role models? Hmmm… This is probably the toughest question out of them all! I have a few, but growing up when I was a little tennis player first my role model was Serena Williams because I wanted to be a good tennis player and she was so amazing. She still is so amazing. As I became a little squasher, I idolized Amr Shabana since he was another fellow lefty and I absolutely loved his game. He’s also one of the nicest and fairest people both on the court and off the court so he is such a great role model and ambassador for the game. And of course, my parents are amazing role models because they are such hard workers and have taught me so much and I love them dearly.

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Sobhy plays in the semifinals of the Cleveland Classic today, Monday February 1st, where she has a chance to beat the seedings again and gain more valuable world tour points. You can see her match result today starting at 6.45pm here.To keep up with Amanda’s progress in future visitwww.amandasobhy.com or follow her on twitter at handle@itssobhytime.

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