CIB Mohamed Abouelghar is one of the most entertaining and exciting players on the PSA World Tour, spending the last six years inside the world’s top 20 and reaching a highest ranking of World No.7 in 2019. His ranking has slipped of late due to a knee injury that has plagued the 28-year-old for a number of years now.
His last event was the Canary Wharf Classic in November 2021 where he lost out to England’s James Willstrop. Abouelghar hasn’t featured in a PSA event since. We caught up with Mohamed to check on his recovery and get some more information about his progress.
So, what happened?
“So I’ve had this for almost a year and a half now. I had pain in my knee. But I didn’t know where the pain was coming from. I had so many orthopaedics, many physios and no one could really put their finger on what the problem is.
“After Canary Wharf, I saw an orthopaedic who suggested an PRP (Platelet-rich plasma) injection. With PRP it’s always 50/50. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t work. And the pain kept getting worse. I really couldn’t play unless I had very, very strong painkillers, which was not the way forward for me. Then I saw another orthopaedic in England, in London, actually. He said what I have is a little piece of cartilage that is missing under my kneecap, which is exposing the bone, putting my femur bone under a lot of stress. And apparently, this is where the pain was coming from. So I’ve had an arthroscopy to try to let the cartilage grow again, this little piece. And yeah, this is how this is what it has been like.”
How manageable was the pain?
“The pain was really manageable. Within that match [Qatar Classic 2021] with Paul [Coll], I remember waking up that morning, I felt the pain was not as usual. So I increased my anti-inflammatory dose. So I had no pain playing against Paul. I was playing with no pain, but apparently, I was masking the pain with the pills that I took. But when I went back to Cairo, I couldn’t train and I was really struggling with how bad the pain was. It was on and off throughout the whole of last season. But after Qatar, it was really not bearable.”
What’s the recovery process?
“So, I had crutches for almost eight weeks. The idea of the surgery is to let this little piece grow again and in the beginning, you just should just leave it alone and not put any weight on it. Then I started gradually back at the gym doing very easy stuff. Like basically things that hardly makes you sweat and then with time it gets better, I mean now, I’m in a good place. I’m working out in the gym every day for three hours, and I see my physio every day. I’m working really hard to try to get my body strong and to get my knees strong.
“The good news is that the bad days are getting much less than, let’s say, a month or two ago. And the good days are becoming more. I haven’t really stepped on court yet. Let’s say I’m not running. I’m not doing anything like that. But, I’m starting to do some jumps at the gym. Very low impact change of direction. So nothing really like a match or anything, but I’m getting the groove.”
How hard has it been for you mentally?
“Yeah, the mental side is everything. Because sometimes on your bad days, your mind is just telling you stories that you don’t want to believe, Like: Can I come back? Will I be healthy again? Can I compete at that level again? But you just need to stay busy. With my team, we put very short-term goals together. My ultimate goal, of course, was to go back and play. But we were just putting some goals like increasing the weights in the gym first. This is a goal. If I complete that, then there is another goal waiting. But I wasn’t going into every day obsessing about that fact that I want to go back to play. Because if I had this approach, I would have gone crazy. I’m taking it one step at a time. I don’t want to rush anything in my head.”
What has it been like watching the events? Have you managed to go to any in Egypt or would you rather stay away?
“No, I didn’t go to any. But I definitely watched them. In the beginning, I didn’t watch any squash. No tournaments, no matches, nothing. But then I took it with an open heart, you know? So yeah, I started to watch again, I’ve watched the last four or five tournaments. There have been some incredible matches recently, especially at the end of last season at the World Champs and in El Gouna.”
Looking at the level at the top now, does it make it a bit harder for you to think about coming back?
“Of course, it’s going to be hard. To come back to the level that I want to come back to. But I’m very positive that I have it in me to keep going. As long as I feel fit and healthy. And this is what I’m trying to do. I love squash and I love playing. I’m not obsessed about rankings or anything yet. I’m just taking it one step at a time. And then the main reason why I want to go back and play squash is that I love squash. I love competing and I love going to tournaments, travelling and all that. So, I will just take it one step at a time and see where that takes me.”
Ddo you have any tournament in mind to return yet?
“In the beginning, my initial plan was to come back in September. But I’ve had a couple of setbacks throughout the last six months so I guess it was just too optimistic. Obviously, before surgery, I thought the recovery was going to skyrocket, you know, but then the reality is not the same. But my very loose plan is to start to hit with the ball again week by week, increasing the intensity if my body allows it and hopefully November in Singapore I can be back. It’s an interesting place to start. I’ve never been, so I have this at the back of my mind, but I’m not working towards it. I’m just trying to get myself fit.”
How much will this injury affect your preparation and mentality in the future?
“For sure, it makes you understand the value of the little details that sometimes you overlook, but I was not the guy that really overlooked that stuff [warm-ups/cool downs]. But anyways, it still gives you a perspective on how important this kind of stuff is. So yeah, I would definitely change my approach. I was very intense in my training all the time, so maybe I would have to change that and work around my body and work smarter more than harder. So I’m discovering what is best for my body and my squash.”
We sincerely hope that Abou is back on the PSA World Tour soon as his exciting brand of squash is certainly missed.